Suicide in children and adolescents: a 10-year retrospective review

Am J Forensic Med Pathol. 2005 Dec;26(4):309-15. doi: 10.1097/01.paf.0000188169.41158.58.


Suicide is second only to accidents as the most common cause of death for children and adolescents age 10 to 19 in Canada. All of the pediatric cases that were referred to the Hamilton Regional Forensic Pathology Unit from 1993 to 2002 were reviewed. For the purpose of this study, pediatric deaths were defined as deaths in the age group of 1 day up to and including 19 years of age. Specific criteria for suicide were applied to each case, independent of the manner of death issued by the coroner. The criteria were 3-fold. First, homicide had to be ruled out by the police investigation and autopsy findings. Second, the method had to be consistent with self-infliction. Finally, there had to be some evidence of suicidal intent. Questionable cases were discussed among the authors, and if reasonable intent could not be established, then the case was excluded. The autopsy and police reports were examined in detail regarding age, sex, location and method of suicide, presence of suicide notes, and any contributing psychologic factors or stressors. Of the 501 pediatric autopsies performed during the 10-year period, 31 (6%) met the criteria of suicide. The majority of cases (87%) were in older adolescents (age 15 to 19), and the male to female ratio was 2.4:1. Psychologic factors were identified in some of the cases, including depressed mood (77%), suicidal ideation (45%), previous suicide attempts (23%), and drug or alcohol problems (19%). Most of the suicides (61%) occurred in the victim's home, and 12 (39%) cases left a suicide note. In 9 cases (29%), alcohol or street drugs were detected postmortem, though in 8 cases toxicology was not performed. Hanging (48%) was the most common method of suicide, followed by firearms (13%), poisoning (10%), drowning (10%), and blunt force vehicular trauma (10%). Almost 60% of the male suicides were by hanging. No specific trend was identified in the 9 female suicides. These results were compared with similar studies within Canada and other countries. Overall, the method of suicide is dictated by what is convenient and readily available, though the acceptance of various suicide methods can change over time. Suicide prevention efforts should be tailored to address local trends.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Canada / epidemiology
  • Cause of Death*
  • Child
  • Depression / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Forensic Medicine
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Methods
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sex Distribution
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology
  • Suicide / statistics & numerical data*