Public Health Surveillance of Youth Suicide Attempts: Challenges and Opportunities

Michael D. Singleton, Laura M. Frey, Ashley Webb, Julie Cerel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Background: Surveillance of youth suicide attempts presents many challenges. To assess common data sources that capture information about youth suicidal behavior, we compared counts of high school students who reported (a) a suicide attempt and (b) an injurious suicide attempt, requiring medical treatment in the previous twelve months, with counts of suicide deaths and intentional self-injuries obtained from administrative data sources. Method: Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS), high school enrollments, and vital statistics were used to estimate the ratio of suicide attempts to suicide deaths among Kentucky high school students. YRBSS and enrollment data were used to estimate the number of Kentucky high school students who received medical treatment following a suicide attempt, which was compared with hospital and emergency department (ED) discharges for intentional self-injury from administrative claim records. Results: We estimated 943 students reporting a suicide attempt for every suicide death, a result that is higher than previous estimates for youth. Self-reported suicide attempts resulting in medical treatment were 7.5 times higher than self-injuries reported in claims records. Conclusion: Future research should address concerns about undocumented cases of intentional self-injury in administrative claims systems; patient encounters in nonhospital settings for injuries resulting from a suicide attempt; and validity of Youth Risk Behavior Survey questions on suicidal behavior.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)42-55
Number of pages14
JournalSuicide and Life-Threatening Behavior
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 The American Association of Suicidology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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