The 11 young people who committed suicide in Kent and Sussex counties earlier this year experienced a combination of mental health issues and social problems that adults must look out for in the future, federal officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday.
The cluster of suicides included four alone at Polytech High School in Woodside.
It was also determined that bullying did not play a role in a spell of suicides between Jan. 1 and May 4, said Dr. Alex Crosby, medical epidemiologist, for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Division of Violence Prevention. However, there was evidence that those victims – between the ages of 13 and 21 – were copying their peers.
The Delaware Department of Health and Social Services had asked the CDC for assistance in investigating the unusual rash of deaths in Kent and Sussex back in March. The review period was extended from Jan. 1 to May 4 during the investigation.
Hanging was the most frequently used method of self injury followed by self-inflicted gun shot wounds, both consistent with national patterns, Crosby said of the fatal suicides.
Crosby also noted that of 11 total suicides, seven of the young people were male, which was consistent with national trends.
In addition, there were 116 non-fatal suicide attempts in Kent and Sussex within the same time period of January to early May, Crosby said. Overdoses with prescription or over-the-counter drugs was the method most frequently used, and cutting was second, he said. That was also consistent with national data.
“We found that 17 out of those 116 indicated that they had a peer or friend that had attempted or died of suicide,” Crosby said. “And 11 of those 17 specifically mentioned that that peer or friend was a fellow student in their school. There was some contribution to being exposed to suicidal behavior.”
The CDC investigation revealed that most of the young people who died of suicide had some sort of mental health problem and one of the following (from greatest to least):
• A conflict with their parents
• Recent legal problems
• A conflict with a boyfriend or girlfriend
• Substance abuse
• Academic problems
• Leaving a note, calling or texting someone about his or her impending suicidal behavior
• Recent problems with peers
• Issues regarding sexual orientation
“Suicide really is a complex phenomenon; almost no one dies as a result of just one risk factor,” Crosby said. “Oftentimes, there are multiple risk factors that overlap.”
Indeed, more than half of the victims in Delaware experienced five of more of the aforementioned circumstances, he said.