Suicidal children ‘overlooked’ by global government policy, research finds

Suicidal children are at risk of being overlooked by global government policy, according to new research.

The review led by the University of Stirling looked at 35 policy documents that address suicide prevention approaches for children up to 18 years old.

It highlighted a lack of specific reference to the treatment and needs of suicidal children.

Most policies, the research found, recommend suicidal children – or those who have self-harmed – should be assessed by a specialist practitioner.

But it said the majority “offered no clear recommendations beyond this”.

The study found the Scottish Government’s Suicide Prevention Strategy 2013–2016 made no reference to suicidal young people.

While the Scottish Government Mental Health Strategy 2017–2027 does have a section addressing the mental health needs of young people, there is “no reference to children who are suicidal”, it said.

It includes a statement stating “suicide prevention remains a government priority that will be dealt with separately”.

The Scottish Government does not publish annual suicide rates for children under 15.

Nearly 800,000 lives are lost to suicide annually, according to the World Health Organisation.

The report concludes that despite claims by global policymakers that children are a “priority target population”, their content “mainly promotes the use of universal prevention strategies and does not specifically address the treatment and care” of young people who are suicidal.

“This highlights a potential gap in policy that could lead to the needs of this very vulnerable group being overlooked, and varying interpretations of how they should be provided for,” the report said.

Lynne Gilmour
Lynne Gilmour (University of Stirling/PA)

Lynne Gilmour, of the university’s Nursing, Midwifery and Allied Health Professions Research Unit, led the study.

She said the research “mapped key policy documents worldwide and established how they addressed the treatment and care needs of children and young people who are suicidal”.

“It highlighted a potential gap in policy that could lead to the needs of this very vulnerable group being overlooked, and varying interpretations of how they should be provided for,” she said.

“National guidelines – in countries including the UK, New Zealand and Ireland – contain recommendations that children and young people who are considered to be at risk of suicide are assessed by a child and adolescent mental health practitioner, however, stop short of recommending treatments and interventions beyond this.”

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