The Daily Tar Heel

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Wednesday October 5th

State sees rise in child suicide

North Carolina's child suicide rate has doubled between 2010 and 2014, according to recent statistics. 

The number of suicides committed by children in the state has increased from 23 to 46 over the past five years — a trend that will be addressed by the North Carolina Child Fatality Task Force on Feb. 1.

The task force is interested in studying why this rate is rising and making recommendations to the General Assembly, said Michelle Hughes, executive director of NC Child and a governor-appointed member of the group. 

“Right now, I don’t think we know the answer,” she said. “What we hope to do in the upcoming session is look at the issue more closely and be able to make some recommendations to the General Assembly about ways that we can prevent young people from dying by suicide and contemplating suicide.”

Kella Hatcher, executive director of the North Carolina Child Fatality Task Force, said it supported a resolution to create a commission to determine how to use research to prevent youth suicide. 

But this bill did not progress during the 2015 legislative session, she said. 

She said as a legislative study commission, the task force will study all types of of child deaths in the state to create evidence-based policy solutions to prevent future fatalities.

Hughes said the whole task force — comprised of three committees studying different types of death — will meet three more times before the short session begins in Spring 2016.

The Intentional Death Prevention Committee will research abuse and neglect, youth homicide and youth suicide. In their Feb. 1 meeting, they will dedicate a majority of the time to discussing youth suicide prevention.

Hughes said the committee will consider a number of different prevention strategies the state can implement or has already implemented, including hotlines, training for teachers and counselors in schools and school social workers.

Strategies from each committee only function as suggestions, and then must be approved by the whole task force before being introduced to the N.C. General Assembly in the Spring, Hughes said.

“The task force members, many of whom are legislators, will work to try and advance those different policy solutions in the short session,” Hughes said.

Hatcher said the task force will consult with experts who deal with data — specifically the office of the Chief Medical Examiner, the Injury and Violence Prevention branch for North Carolina and state mental health workers.

Mitch Prinstein, a UNC psychology and neuroscience professor, said some of the strongest predictors of suicide are the presence of prior self-injurious behavior and depression. Among children, he said depression is often but not necessarily a factor. 

“Very often it happens among those who are impulsive and risk-taking in general,” he said.

The state has seen a particular increase in suicides in children between the ages of 10 and 14, which Prinstein said is due to earlier pubertal development in children over time. 

“We are seeing increases in the proportion of kids, even younger kids, engaging in non-suicidal self-injury,” he said.

But he emphasized the state's increase is not occurring nationwide.

"Nationally, we've seen the rate of suicidal behavior in adolescents has been stable for decades."

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