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Child suicides on the decline

The Record, June 11, 2004

Suicide among American youngsters and teens fell about 25 percent in the last decade, reflecting a dramatic dropoff in gun suicides, the government said Thursday.

In fact, hanging and other forms of suffocation -- including use of belts, ropes, or plastic bags overtook self-inflicted shootings in the 1990s as the most common method of suicide among 10- to 14-year-olds, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

A specialist in adolescent medicine said new safety measures for keeping guns out of children’s hands and greater acceptance of gays may have played important roles.

Sexual orientation has been a factor in many suicides among young males, said Dr. Charles Wibbelsman, chief of The Teenage Clinic of Kaiser Permanente in San Francisco.

“There are shows [concerning gays and lesbians] today that weren’t on nine years ago,” said Wibbelsman, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ committee on adolescents. “It’s been much more ‘out’ and in that respect, we’ve saved a lot more people’s lives.”

The suicide rate for ages 10 to 19 fell from 6.2 deaths per 100,000 people in 1992 to 4.6 per 100,000 in 2001, the CDC said.

The number of suicides also fell in that time, from 2,151 to 1,883. The decrease in gun suicides was most dramatic among children 10 to 14, dropping from 172 in 1992 to 90 in 2001. Among those 15 to 19, deaths from self-inflicted shootings dropped from 1,251 to 838 during the same period, the CDC said.

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