There has been a disturbing uptick in the number of teenage girls trying to kill themselves by poisoning and this data should alarm public health officials in the United States, a new report has revealed.

A team of researchers in Ohio tried to determine self-poisoning suicide rates by looking at data from the National Poison Data System and the U.S. Census Bureau. They pinpointed deaths by poison, which were suspected to be intentional.

The research team discovered that suicide rates by self-poisoning were downtrending between 2000 and 2011 until the trend began increasing up until 2018.

The most dramatic rise in numbers were seen in suicide attempts among adolescents aged 10 to 15 years old, which ranged from 126 percent to 299 percent. The increase in numbers was largely driven by young girls in these age groups.

"There's something very alarming happening here. Even if we don't know why it's happening, it's a major signal that there are big problems in children's lives right now and we as a society need to address them," said study co-author Henry Spiller, who is also the director of the Central Ohio Poison Center.

10 To 15-Year-Old Girls Attempt Suicide By Poisoning

Suicide is the second most common cause of death among teenagers in the United States and data from the National Institute of Mental Health showed that there are twice as many suicides in the country than homicides.

The new study, which has been published in the Journal of Pediatrics, revealed that while boys died by suicide four times more often than girls, the rise in suicide attempts were driven by girls who attempted to poison themselves.

In fact, the poisoning attempts by girls aged 10 to 12 years old increased 268 percent from 2010 to 2017, while for girls aged 13 to 15 years old, the poisoning attempts increased 143 percent. Of the 1.6 million suicide attempts by teenagers in the study, at least 71 percent or more than 1.1 million cases were made by young girls.

Suicide rates can be attributed to the differences in methods people use to kill themselves, and this holds true both for adolescents and adults. Researchers said boys and men are most likely to use violent methods such as suffocation and guns, while girls and women are more likely to ingest pills and poison.

Teen Suicide Prevention Is An Urgent Matter

The study does not investigate the types of poison used by girls to attempt suicide, and so Spiller and his colleagues plan to work on a follow-up study that focuses on the substances used by most young people in their attempts. So far, Spiller said young people use a variety of substances such as antihistamines, their parents' pills, Tylenol, anti-depressants, and medication for ADHD.

Another issue with the study is that it cannot pinpoint the reasons why young girls and boys attempt suicide, although a recent study explained that there has been an increase in teen suicides after the release of the Netflix show 13 Reasons Why.

The link between the rise of suicide attempts by poisoning and the release of that show do not coincide, however, because the research done by Spiller and his colleagues cover data from 2010 to 2018.

Still, the issue of teen suicide prevention must be something that policymakers need to take seriously more than ever. What's more, parents, teachers, counselors, and doctors should reach out to young people and help them, no matter what's the reason for their suicide ideation and attempts.

Some resources available online include The Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds, which contains helpful articles on mental health issues and where to turn for support groups, programs, and therapies. There's also The Crisis Text Line and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Photo: Javier Morales | Flickr

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