Suicide cluster in downstate Delaware

In the first few months of this year, Kent and Sussex Counties reported more suicides among children and young adults, ages 13-21 years, than is typically reported over an entire year, statewide.

Given the staggering numbers, the state called on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in March to conduct an epidemiological study, and examine risk factors as well as make recommendations to prevent future suicides. 

After reviewing its data, the CDC released a preliminary report, Thursday, revealing between January 1 and May 4, there have been 11 suicide deaths in Kent and Sussex Counties, and 116 nonfatal suicide attempts among those between the ages of 12 and 21. While the CDC’s report does not name the decedents or their schools, media outlets have reported four of the 11 were students at Polytech High School south of Dover.

According to the report, hanging was the most frequently used method, followed by self-inflicted gunshot wounds, which, the CDC says, is consistent with the national pattern for this age group. The CDC says overdose and cutting are the two leading methods among suicide attempts, again, consistent with national trends.

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Several risk factors were cited as reasons behind suicides and suicide attempts including mental health problems, issues with parents and boyfriend/girlfriend troubles. The CDC states the 11 decedents suffered from two or more of these circumstances, but a clear cut answer linking all of the deaths in the cluster was not discovered.

The CDC team did present some preliminary prevention recommendations for community and state leaders to use including: 

Periodic mental health awareness training for those who work with young people 

Developing partnerships to help address the needs of young people through the gathering and monitoring of health data and through youth programs 

Review evidence-based suicide prevention strategies for young people 

As far as what’s next, the CDC says it will conduct further analysis of risk factors in this cluster and look into areas of special interest, like childhood trauma or victimization, before the team submits its final report to state leaders.

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