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Study: Adolescent Suicide Risk Can Start in Middle School

Educators have long known that puberty is a tough time for students, but a new study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health suggests the risks for depressed children can start much earlier than expected: Nearly 40 percent of adolescents who attempt suicide first try to kill themselves before high school.

As part of the ongoing longitudinal study, the Raising Healthy Children project, James Mazza, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington, and colleagues collected data on depressive symptoms and suicide attempts from 883 young adults ages 18 and 19 in a Pacific Northwest school district.

Mazza and his colleagues found that the 9 percent of students reported attempting to kill themselves had more frequent self-reported symptoms of depression than other students as early as elementary and middle school. The rate of suicide attempts rose sharply around age 12, or 6th grade, and continued to increase through 9th grade. However, the 39 students who reported trying to commit suicide several times, tried for the first time earlier—some as early as age 9.

"Young adults who end up having chronic mental health problems show their struggles early," Mazza said in a statement on the project. "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."

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