Though many youths attempt suicide by the time they graduate from high school, a huge proportion of them make their first suicide attempt in elementary or middle school, reveals a new study.
James Mazza and his team from the University of Washington asked 883 young adults aged 18 or 19 about their history of suicide attempts, out of which 78 respondents, nearly 9 percent, said that they had tried suicide at some point.
The researchers found that suicide attempt rates showed a sharp increase around sixth grade, about age 12, with rates peaking around eighth or ninth grade.
For the 39 respondents reporting multiple suicide attempts, their first attempt was significantly earlier, as young as 9, than those making a single attempt.
"Young adults who end up having chronic mental health problems show their struggles early," Mazza said.
"This study suggests that implementation of mental health programs may need to start in elementary and middle schools, and that youth in these grades are fairly good reporters of their own mental health," he said.
Adolescence can often be a struggle for some youth with ongoing pressures of drugs, alcohol, sexual relationships and sexual orientation, and at the same time they're becoming more autonomous.
"Adolescence is a time when kids are preparing to be more independent from their parents or guardians, but lack the experience of how to do this," he said.
"And their support network - their friends - doesn't have the experience either, especially in crisis situations," Mazza said.
Mazza compared the young adults' recollection of their suicide attempts with their past depression scores, which were collected yearly as part of their participation in the Raising Healthy Children project led by researchers at UW's Social Developmental Research Group at the School of Social Work.
Depression levels were higher at the time of the youths' reported first suicide attempts compared with their peers who had not attempted suicide, and he found an increase in depression scores at the time of the attempt compared with depression scores the year before and after the attempt for the same child.
"This suggests that kids are able to tell us, by their depression scores, that things aren't going well for them.
"We're likely not giving kids enough credence in assessing their own mental health, and this study shows that we can rely on self-report measures to help identify youth who may be at risk for current mental health concerns, including possible suicidal behaviour," he added.
The study has been published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.