Kansas Youth Suicide Rate Significantly Increases

The number of suicides among children in Kansas is rising at an alarming rate.

According to the Kansas Attorney General’s Office, child suicide rose by 50 percent from 2016 to 2017, according to a report released Wednesday by the Kansas State Child Death Review Board.

The 32 Kansas youth who died by suicide in 2017 was up from 20 in 2016, representing a 2017 rate of 4.5 per 100,000 population. The sharp increase from 2016 to 2017 continues a troubling trend in the youth suicide rate over the past decade, which stood at just 1.3 per 100,000 population a decade ago.

“I appreciate the dedicated work of the State Child Death Review Board in compiling this information to help inform policymakers on steps to help prevent deaths of Kansas children,” Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said. “The continued rise in youth suicides depicted in the report is alarming, and the Legislature showed considerable foresight earlier this year in establishing a more-comprehensive state response.”

In June 2018, Schmidt and the Tower Mental Health Foundation formed the Youth Suicide Prevention Task Force to survey efforts underway in Kansas to reduce the incidence of youth suicide and provide recommendations on further steps that could be taken. In May, the Legislature adopted several of those recommendations by passing the conference committee report on House Bill 2290, which created the Kansas Youth Suicide Prevention Coordinator to implement recommendations of the task force. In August, Schmidt appointed Gina Meier-Hummel to serve as the state’s first coordinator.

“Every time a child takes his or her own life it is heartbreaking, and this report underscores the need to collectively address the pain Kansas youth, families and communities are feeling,” Meier-Hummel said. “I take this responsibility very seriously and am encouraged by the early response from statewide partners about working together, streamlining our efforts and strengthening our overall response to youth suicide in Kansas.”

The State Child Death Review Board’s 2019 annual report analyzes all child deaths that occurred in calendar year 2017, the most recent year for which data is available. Despite the troubling increase in the rate of youth suicide, the overall child death rate of 55.6 deaths per 100,000 population in 2017 remained near the record-low rates that have been reported the past four years. The report showed that Kansas had 396 child fatalities in 2017, compared with 394 each of the previous two years.

“While it is promising to see that the overall death rates are decreasing for Kansas children, the number of youth suicides remain a concern,” said Sara Hortenstine, the board’s executive director. “The information provided within this report should continue to inform individuals, organizations, and the State of Kansas as a whole to continue prevention efforts surrounding child fatalities in our state.”

In addition to policy recommendations, the report includes prevention points that families can use to decrease the likelihood of a child’s death.

The board is a multi-disciplinary, multi-agency volunteer board organized by law within the Attorney General’s Office to examine trends and patterns that identify risk factors in the deaths of children, from birth through 17 years of age.