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Understanding suicide warning signs in children

Research awardData Science

Funding period 2017-2018

InstitutionKings College London

LocationUnited Kingdom

What do records in schools tell us about a child’s risk of suicide?   

The project

Nearly one in ten young people self-harm or think about suicide. This is particularly worrying as we know that self-harm and suicidal thoughts are the biggest risk factors for someone attempting to take their own life.

At present, our understanding of these risk factors is limited – and children facing suicidal thoughts often go unnoticed, without vital help.

If we were able to identify warning signs in schools, we would have the opportunity to create targeted interventions to prevent children and young people from attempting suicide.

To do this, Dr Rina Dutta and her team are linking data from schools with mental health data – providing a unique insight that will be able to determine if factors in schools can predict suicidal behaviours.  

The process

Rina will be taking anonymised electronic data, which is regularly collected by schools, and linking it to health and hospital records for 180,000 young people aged between 10-17 years, including those from socially disadvantaged backgrounds.

Hospital records indicate whether a child has been admitted to A&E with self-harm or suicidal behaviour. By linking this data to school data and other health records she aims to gain a far greater understanding of the factors in a child’s life that may have caused suicidal tendencies.

This includes looking at the impact of stressful life events like starting exams and changing schools – as well as environmental factors such as abuse, and absence from school. Whether a child has special needs or long-term physical health conditions, and their levels of engagement in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, will also be taken into account.

The potential

Rina’s innovative research will provide unprecedented insight into school-based risk factors for suicide – with the potential to inform targeted prevention strategies.

Her work will help to highlight the children most at risk of suicide – enabling services to intervene at a vital time and support children to get better.

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