As we mark Suicide Prevention Awareness month, you might be shocked to learn suicide is the third-leading cause of death for children.

And dozens of New Jersey children, some as young as 10, have attempted to kill themselves by overdosing on pills this year, officials said.

The state Department of Children and Families reports in 2014, the most recent year data is available, 80 young people, between the ages of 10 and 24, took their own lives.

That’s a rate of 4.6 per 100,000.

DCF statistics also show hanging, strangulation, and suffocation were the most common means of suicide among females and males, ages 10 to 24 in New Jersey during 2014, but swallowing poison or overdosing on medication is another alternative.

“We’re noticing younger and younger children are harming themselves and they are taking all kinds of medications or chemicals in an attempt to do this,” said Dr. Bruce Ruck, managing director of the New Jersey Poison Control Center.

The says calls from frantic parents about their children trying to commit suicide used to be extremely rare, but that is no longer the case.

“Now I don’t bat an eye anymore, unfortunately. I get very upset by it, I get hugely upset by it, but we do see it happening and it’s really, really scary to me,” he said.

In the past few months, four 10 year-olds, seven 11-year-olds, 17 12-year-olds, more than 50 13-year-olds and 90 14-year-olds in the state have attempted suicide, according to calls received by the center.

"The numbers are just staggering," Ruck said.

He noted there is no requirement to report a suicide attempt to the Poison Center, so this is the tip of the iceberg.

“That’s what’s very, very scary. It’s something that’s really concerning to us,” he said.

Ruck said youngsters trying to kill themselves will swallow a wide variety of different chemicals and medications.

“It’s everything from acetaminophen, which is in Tylenol products, to cough and cold products, to just about anything and everything that you can imagine,” he said.

According to George Scott, a resource coordinator at the Traumatic Loss Coalition of New Jersey, there are several factors that can greatly increase the likelihood of kids thinking about suicide and then taking their own lives.

“It’s domestic violence, sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, mental health issues in the home, parents who separate or divorce, people who go to jail,” he said. “Those circumstances in a kid's life, as they get older, really begin to sabotage their own mental health and their own emotional security.”

He noted these risk factors put kids at high risk for drug or alcohol use, sometimes for self injury, and sometimes suicidal behavior.

“Healthy kids do not think about dying. If kids are getting healthy support at home this is not an issue,” he said.

If parents who are concerned about the behavior of their child and feel they may be at risk, Scott recommends they go for a psychiatric screening, or maybe even go to a hospital ER.

“They should do it as soon as that feeling is like, 'Oh, my God, I think my kid's in trouble',” he said.

He also noted statistics for suicide (kept by the CDC) don’t go lower than age 10 because “there’s a debate whether kids younger than 10 understand the finality of death.”

Ruck also encourages parents to take swift action and keep the Poison Center hotline number — 800-222-1222 — close by.

“We’re doing everything we can to alert the public about the dangers their kids may be facing,” he said.

Contact reporter David Matthau at

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