A continuing upward trend in teen suicides has contributed to a small uptick in the death of Kansas children and minors, according to a new report.
Twenty Kansas youth killed themselves in 2016, the most recent year for which statistics are available, up from 18 in 2015. Two thirds of the victims were boys. While more girls than boys attempt suicide, the Kansas State Child Death Review Board said in its 2018 annual report, boys are more likely be successful in ending their own lives.
“Of the 20 youths who committed suicide,” the child death review board said, “40 percent had previously received or were receiving mental health services at the time of their death. In 35 percent of the deaths, the youth had a history of substance abuse.”
Overall, the number of kids who died by natural and unnatural causes stayed the same between 2015 and 2016 at 394 fatalities, which in 2015 was a record low. But because Kansas has seen a decline in the under-18 population, the 2016 death rate was higher at 55.1 deaths per 100,000 population.
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“While this report indicates that the child death rate in Kansas remains at near-record lows,” Attorney General Derek Schmidt said in releasing the report Friday, “there are also areas for improvement, particularly in the area of preventing youth suicides.”
Created by the state legislature in 1992, the State Child Death Review Board reviews the deaths of all Kansas children, regardless of whether the death occurs within the state’s borders. The board looks for patterns and trends to inform prevention efforts and provide the basis for its recommendations on how to save more lives.
A range of issues were addressed in the new report, including calls to better promote the use of seat belts, more focus on combating distracted driving and better training for employees within the state’s child welfare agency: the Department for Children and Families.
As to youth suicide, the board said law enforcement officials should dig deeper in their investigations, looking into the social, mental health and medical histories of each victim. “Information regarding family stressors, past history of attempts, involvement in mental health services, and relevant social media information should be included,” the report said.
The report also stressed the importance of teachers and school administrators be on the lookout for kids who show warning signs that they may try to end their lives. “This is particularly crucial as deaths due to suicide are increasing and include more children of younger ages,” the report said.