Children’s Mental Health: Suicidal overdose cases in children and teens increase 92% in 10 years

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and May 4th is National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day.  This month’s blog provides highlights the worsening mental health crisis among teens nationally and in Illinois.

Why is adolescent mental health a concern? 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), teen suicide is now the leading cause of injury-related death, having surpassed motor vehicle accidents in 2014.

teen suicides









Also according to the CDC, the number of children aged 3-17 years identified nationally as having a current mental health diagnosis is not negligible. Some common diagnoses include:

  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) (6.8%)
  • Behavioral or conduct problems (3.5%)
  • Anxiety (3%)
  • Depression (2.1%)

So, what does the mental health of children and teens have to do with the Illinois Poison Center (IPC)? 

The IPC manages almost 80,000 cases per year, and in 2016, about 13,700 of these cases involved suicidal intent (44% of cases involve individuals under the age of 19). The vast majority of cases came from Illinois hospital staff in emergency departments and intensive care units seeking drug and treatment information to care for their patients.

Over the past 10 years, the number of child and adolescent poisonings due to suspected suicidal intent has increased 92%, with most of that increase since 2011. Along with that, the toxicity of the attempts has increased by over 200%.

While the number of ingestions has almost doubled, the number of ingestions with severe or life-threatening symptoms has tripled. These findings highlight the increasing mental health distress teens are experiencing. The figures are especially disturbing because the rate of increase in suicide attempts and individual harm has increased significantly since 2011.

Self-harm ingestions reported to the IPC in adolescents ages 6 to 19 increased 92 percent, from 3,143 cases in 2007 to 6,038 cases in 2016.  The majority of the increase is in the past 5 years.

suicide attempts by poisoning








Exposures with moderate or major toxicity have more than tripled, from 514 cases in 2007 to 1,602 cases in 2016. The increase in severity has occurred mostly in the last 5 years.

severity of suicide attempts due to poisoning







What can I do to help a friend or family member stay safe from harm?

The IPC findings in Illinois youth mental health and suicidal overdose attempts show it is more important than ever for people to be aware of the warning signs for suicide.

Warning signs include:

  • Increased substance (alcohol or drug) use
  • Talking about wanting to die, having no reason for living or no sense of purpose in life
  • Talking about feeling trapped or like there’s no way out
  • Talking about feeling unbearable pain or feeling like a burden to others
  • Becoming socially isolated and withdrawal from friends, family and society
  • Anxiety, agitation, inability to sleep, or sleeping all of the time
  • Hopelessness
  • Dramatic mood changes

In such cases, seek help from medical and mental health professionals, or call the National Suicide Lifeline for support and information on how to begin the process of treatment.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The number is 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255). For those who prefer keyboarding, the Lifeline offers online Lifeline Crisis Chat.

How can the Illinois Poison Center help?

The IPC can serve as a life-saving resource when potential poisonings occur, including situations involving self-harm ingestions in children or adults. With a phone call, Illinoisans of any age can immediately access comprehensive information and treatment advice. IPC nurses, pharmacists and physicians are available 24 hours per day, 365 days per year, including holidays. If you suspect that you or someone you know has been exposed to a potentially harmful substance, please call the IPC at 800-222-1222. For more information, visit the IPC’s website:

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