Suicide in the Pediatric Population: Screening, Risk Assessment and Treatment

The number of children and adolescents dying by suicide is increasing over time. Patterns for who is at risk are also changing, leading to a need to review clinical suicide prevention progress and identify limitations with existing practices and research that can help us further address this growing problem. This paper aims to synthesise the literature on paediatric suicide screening, risk assessment and treatment to inform clinical practice and suicide prevention efforts.

Our review shows that universal screening is strongly recommended, feasible and acceptable, and that there are screening tools that have been validated with youth. However, screening may not accurately identify those at risk of dying due to the relative rarity of suicide death and the associated research and clinical challenges in studying such a rare event and predicting future behaviour.

Similarly, while risk assessments have been developed and tested in some populations, there is limited research on their validity and challenges with their implementation. Several promising suicide-specific treatments have been developed for youth, but overall there is an insufficient number of randomised trials. Despite great need, the research evidence to support screening, risk assessment and treatment is still limited. As suicide rates increase for children and adolescents, continued research in all three domains is needed to reverse this trend.