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JOURNAL ARTICLE

Suicidal behavior in children younger than twelve: a diagnostic challenge for emergency department personnel

Carl L Tishler, Natalie Staats Reiss, Angel R Rhodes
Academic Emergency Medicine 2007, 14 (9): 810-8
17726127
Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in children younger than 12 years and is the fourth leading cause of death in 12 year olds. Increasing numbers of young children now present to the emergency department (ED) with mental health issues, and ED personnel must determine the most appropriate disposition options for these children, sometimes without the assistance of specialty mental health services. Much of the present body of literature describing suicidality fails to separate children from adolescents for analysis and discussion. This article reviews relevant literature pertaining to suicidal thoughts and behaviors in young children and discusses problems with available data, as well as epidemiology, risk factors, typical motivations, methods, assessment, and disposition for these patients. Suicidal children younger than 12 years are often clinically different from suicidal adolescents and adults and may require unique assessment and disposition strategies in the ED. A child who has ideation without a clear plan, or has made an attempt of low lethality, can sometimes be discharged home, provided that a supportive, responsible caregiver is willing to monitor the child and take him or her to outpatient mental health appointments. If the home environment is detrimental, or the child has used a method of high potential lethality, inpatient treatment is the most appropriate course of action. Mental health specialty services, when available, should be used to help determine the most appropriate disposition.

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