Youth suicides drop first time since ’14

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For the first time in five years, the suicide rate for Kansas children declined, with 28 Kansas youths dying by suicide in 2019, a new report out Friday showed.

The number of youth suicides was down from 35 in 2018, according to a report released Friday by the Kansas State Child Death Review Board.

The new report showed there were 362 child fatalities in 2019, the lowest number in 25 years when the board started reviewing children’s deaths.

In 2019, suicide accounted for 27% of all child deaths in Kansas from ages 1 to 17 years old excluding natural causes. It was up from a five-year average of 24%.

The state reported four suicides per 100,000 population for children up to 17 years old in 2019, down from five in 2018 but up from 1.9 in 2014.

The last decline in the suicide rate came in 2014 when it dropped to 1.9 per 100,000 from 2.1 the year before.

The number of deaths by suicide among youths has more than doubled from 14 in 2014 and more than tripled since 2005 when there were eight.

In 2018, there were more suicides than at any time since 2005, the state report shows.

The report revealed that suicides in 2019 were marked by family conflict, recent school turmoil or the person had received mental health services or had a history of alcohol or substance abuse.

Of the 28 youths who died by suicide, 61% had concerns regarding their education, whether academically or behaviorally and in 43% of the deaths, the youth had a history of substance use or abuse, the report showed.

From 2010-2019, the most common form of method of suicide was by asphyxiation followed by firearms and poisoning/overdose/acute intoxication.

Of the 214 youth reported suicides since 2010, the most common method for a male was the use of a firearm in 81 cases.

The most common method for a female was hanging or suffocation in 39 cases.

Next year, a new hotline number — 988 — will replace a 10-digit number that’s used to reach the current National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

The Legislature has considered a bill imposing a monthly surcharge of 50 cents on cellphone users and landlines to pay for mental health services for hotline callers, but it became bogged down in a committee this year.

Mental health advocates say the funding is critical for providing services to the Kansans in dire need of help who will use the new hotline.

They say that without the funding to supplement the new hotline, calls could roll over to counselors in other states who aren’t as familiar with the mental health services available in Kansas and are limited in the help they can provide.

Last session, the Legislature put $3 million into boosting efforts with the new hotline but that’s not believed to be sufficient for handling the news calls that are expected to come with the start of the new phone line.

The State Child Death Review Board’s new report examines all child deaths that occurred in calendar year 2019, the most recent year for which data is available.

The overall child death rate in 2019 was 51.7 deaths per 100,000 population, a decline from 58.6 in 2018. It was the lowest rate since at least 2005.

Of the 362 child deaths, authorities identified 212 of those deaths as natural causes such as congenital conditions, cancer or disease.

The report showed that there were 65 unintentional injury deaths, with the leading cause being a car crash.

Thirty children died in car crashes and in just two instances was the child behind the wheel.