University of South Florida


Pile of folders that say, "evidence"

USF researchers explore why childhood and adolescent suicides are a serious threat in Florida

Suicide is a leading cause of death among 10- to 14-year-olds in Florida. That’s one of several areas of focus in a study led by the University of South Florida (USF).

The USF College of Public Health is contracted by the Florida Department of Health to help collect and analyze specific data for the Florida Violent Death Reporting System (FLVDRS). The FLVDRS keeps track of deaths caused by suicide, homicide, deaths likely caused by violence, legal intervention (with the exception of executions) and unintentional firearm-related deaths.

Karen Liller

Karen Liller, USF College of Public Health professor and principal investigator

Karen Liller, professor and principal investigator for the state contract, and her team reviewed 5,017 victims’ cases from 2019 that showed that 69 percent of violent deaths in Florida were caused by suicide. The remainder are primarily attributed to homicide. While most suicide victims tend to be middle-aged or older-white males, Liller and her team are also studying the increasing number of suicides among Black males, especially younger Black males between the ages of 10 and 24.

“Suicides increasing in the younger age groups is critical to study,” Liller said. “Not enough study has been done especially among underrepresented youth, so we are using what we discovered in the FLVDRS to delve deeper into the suicide data of these individuals.”

Liller’s team combed through thousands of death certificates and reports provided by 16 medical examiners district offices and 24 law enforcement agencies, representing more than 40 percent of the state, and sent the data to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) through a secure portal.

The team wrote narratives from the law enforcement and medical examiner reports. Codes developed from the narratives describe recent life events, known history of psychiatric diagnosis, such as depression and ADHD, known history of self-injurious behavior, engagement with law enforcement, suicide method and scene information. While death certificates provide statewide information, some results are based on data submissions from the participating medical examiner districts and law enforcement agencies. Therefore, not all information represents statewide estimates for violent deaths.

“What is especially important about the FLVDRS is the fact we can learn so much more by reviewing the information from the death certificates, medical examiner reports and law enforcement records for each case,” Liller said. “We are humanizing the victims, rather than focusing solely on statistics, which allows for more effective intervention strategies to prevent deaths.”

In 2019, there were 25 suicides among 10- to 14-year-olds in Florida – the age group’s second leading cause of death behind unintentional injuries. There were 102 suicides among those ages 15 to 19 and 190 were ages 20 to 24.

The FLVDRS was launched in 2018 and joins other states in contributing data to the CDC’s National Violent Death and Reporting System (NVDRS). According to the National Center for Health Statistics, Florida had the third-highest number of violent deaths in 2019, behind California and Texas, and a slightly higher rate than the national average (22.47 vs. 20.5 per 100,000 respectively).

Liller’s team is working with the Florida Department of Health to continue expanding FLVDRS data collection throughout the state to ensure Florida is appropriately represented on a federal level.

The USF research team includes Nicholas Thomas, Jennifer Ramirez, Elizabeth Amoros, Alexis Diblanda, Abraham Salinas, Rolando Trejos and Kelli Agrawal.

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