Background: Suicide is a leading cause of death among youths. Comparatively few studies have studied recent trends over time, or examined rates and characteristics of service contact in well-defined national samples.
Methods: Data on general population suicides and mid-year population estimates were used to calculate suicide rates (per 100,000/year) among youths aged 10–19 years in the United Kingdom. We then determined the proportion of youths who had been in mental health service contact in the year prior to death. Social and clinical data were collected via questionnaires sent to clinicians who had provided care.
Results: The general population rate of suicide was higher in males than females, and was higher in 15–19-year-olds compared to 10–14-year-olds. Suicide rates for 10–19-year-olds declined by 28% between 1 January 1997 and 31 December 2003 (compared with an 8% reduction in those aged >19 years); the fall was particularly marked for males. Mental health service contact was low at 14% (compared with 26% for adults), especially for males (12%). Youths in mental health contact were characterised by: diagnosis of affective disorder, mental illness history, residential instability, self-harm, and substance misuse. Over half of youths were living with parents and one-fifth were in full-time education.
Conclusions: The suicide rate for 10–19-year-olds in the UK appeared to fall between 1997 and 2003. Further monitoring of suicide rates is needed to determine whether this trend has continued for the most recent years (e.g., 2004–7). The fall in rates may have been related to socio-economic or clinical factors. The rate of contact with services was low compared to adults, particularly in males. This is concerning because young males have the highest suicide rate in the UK. Suicide prevention in young people is likely to require a multi-agency approach.