In the first Series paper, Self-harm and suicide in adolescents, Professor Keith Hawton, Dr Kate Saunders of the University of Oxford’s Centre for Suicide Research, and Professor Rory O’Connor of University of Stirling’s Suicidal Behaviour Research Laboratory, UK, examine existing research to look at the connections between self-harm and suicide in young people.
Globally, suicide is the most common cause of death in female adolescents, and the third most common cause of death in male adolescents (after road traffic accidents and violence). Official estimates suggest that there are 164,000 self-inflicted deaths per year globally, but Professor Hawton and colleagues point out that this is likely to be a gross underestimate, since official classifications may often hide deaths from suicide in order to protect families, especially in regions where suicide is still a criminal act.
According to Professor Hawton, “Although suicide is uncommon in adolescents compared with non-fatal self-harm, it is always a tragic outcome. Despite the fact that around 10% of adolescents report having self-harmed, the reasons why they do it and why some –but not others – go on to take their own life are still very poorly understood. Further research in this area is urgently required if we are to make any headway in reducing the number of young people who either cause themselves significant harm or take their own lives.”
Professor O’Connor added, “To prevent adolescent suicide and self-harm, it is also important that we better understand why some young people who have thoughts of suicide do not act on these thoughts – whereas others sadly do and in too many cases die by suicide.”