The rate of suicide attempts using poison by girls under the age of 19 has increased significantly over the past seven years according to a study published by The Journal of Pediatrics. For girls between the ages of 10 and 12, suicide attempts using poison have skyrocketed by 338%.
The study was conducted by researchers at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, and at the Central Ohio Poison Center. Henry Spiller, lead author of the study, told CNN, “It’s not just that there’s more attempts, it’s also the outcomes; the severity is increasing as well.”
Additionally, the study says the number of attempts that required a young girl to get medical attention, or resulted in death, have also increased.
Social Media’s Role
Researchers believe social media may be partly to blame.
“It’s not the sole reason… but it does seem to be an attribute,” John Ackerman, one of the study’s authors, told The Guardian.
“Cyberbullying continues to be on the rise,” adds Marriage and Family Therapist Ellen Mauldin, who specializes in childhood trauma and psychiatric neurobiology. Mauldin told Parentology that “kids can be psychologically tortured by throngs of people from behind a screen, and they feel a tremendous amount of pressure to keep up with the impossible Insta-standard.”
Difference Between Girls and Boys When Considering Suicide
But what attracts girls in particular to self-poisoning?
“Girls are emotionally reactive and more outwardly emotive in general. They tend to get acutely flooded, neurologically, with emotion,” says Mauldin. “In this flooded state, they lose their ability to reason and think things through, which is why females often do not commit suicide successfully, as they are more prone to overdosing on pills or chemicals, lacerating themselves and so on.”
On the other hand, Mauldin says, boys tend to want to avoid any discomfort and simply desire to “take care of things” and end the pain in a decisive manner.
“Due to their typically rigid thinking at this developmental stage,” Mauldin says, “boys make their decision, stick to it, and will find the quickest, most lethal, but also almost painless way to die. They are not emotionally reactive. They are emotionally avoidant.”
Mauldin adds that society places an unfair set of expectations on girls, which can lead to a desperate response. “The cultural standards for girls and women are counter-intuitive, if not impossible, thus increasing the pressure that often leads to mental health issues and suicidal ideation,” she says. “Pair this with easy access to a vast range and quantity of highly toxic, potentially fatal poisons, and here we are.”
The predilection on the part of girls to use poison means fewer girls are successful in their attempt to take their own lives than are boys. Self-poisoning has a lower fatality rate because there’s a greater chance for rescue by medical intervention.
If you believe your child may be at risk for suicide, contact a mental health provider or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.