Suicide second-leading cause of death among Anne Arundel youths

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among youths age 10 to 17 in Anne Arundel County, according to a health department report released Monday.

The report, "Adolescent Suicide: An Assessment of Adolescent Suicide," reviewed rates of adolescent suicide and suicide attempts, gathering information from hospitals, police reports and school health room visits. The leading cause of death among youths in the county was accidental, such as car wrecks, county officials said.

There were nine deaths from suicide among youths younger than age 18 in Anne Arundel from 2004 to 2008, according to the study. Nationally, youth suicide is the third leading cause of death, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Maryland, 13.2 percent of high school students reported seriously considering suicide, 7.5 percent reported attempting suicide and 2.3 percent made a suicide attempt resulting in injury, according to the study, citing data from 2007, the last year statistics were available.

"Our goal ultimately is to save lives, and we want to raise the awareness of some of the warning signs," said Sandra O'Neill, deputy director of Behavioral Health Services for the county Department of Health. "This report gives us some of the data to have more informed conversations, to make sure our responses are coordinated."

Officials said signs of suicidal feelings can be similar to depression, and may result in sadness or hopelessness, frequent crying, withdrawal from friends and family, changes in eating and sleeping habits, and substance abuse.

The study was spurred, in part, by an incident involving county middle-schoolers. In March 2009, county school officials announced stepped-up efforts to combat teen suicide after four middle-school students skipped class and discussed suicide.

Bob Mosier, a spokesman for the county schools, said the partnership developed among the school system, the police, the health department, and other agencies and groups has helped refer students to services more quickly and efficiently.

"We have emphasized with all of our staff and students, if you suspect there is an issue, emotionally, with a friend, a student, a colleague, to get somebody involved," said Mosier. "Silence is the biggest mistake. We want people to be aware, of warning signs of trouble. Comments that may seem off the cuff or ostentatious may have a deeper and far more serious meaning. Our teachers, our counselors, our principals are more aware of it, and are apt to react quickly."

Approximately 475 county youths were treated in an emergency room from 2004 to 2008 for injuries involving suicide attempts, an average of 95 per year.

During this time, the rate of hospital visits for self-injury was slightly higher among white youths than among black youths. However, over the five-year period, the percentage of emergency room visits among black youths more than doubled.

The median age increased from 15 in fiscal year 2004 to 16 in fiscal year 2008. Of the county youths treated in emergency rooms for self-injury, 71.2 percent were among females and 28.8 percent were among males. Nationally, males are more likely to die from suicide but females are more likely to attempt it.

Approximately 66 percent of adolescent emergency room visits for self-injury were made to Baltimore Washington Medical Center and 22.3 percent were to Anne Arundel Medical Center. The total cost for these emergency room visits was $377,815, with a median cost of $758.

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