VANCOUVER – Girls age 10 to 19 living in rural B.C. communities with poor access to local mental health services are at highest risk of intentionally poisoning themselves.

This is a key finding in a study led by researchers from the BC Injury Research and Prevention Unit (BCIRPU), published recently in the British Columbia Medical Journal. The study characterizes self-poisoning among 10- to 19-year-olds in B.C. between 2009 and 2017. Using hospital and census data as well as the locations of mental health services throughout the province, researchers found that self-poisoning rates were highest in rural areas with poorly distributed mental health services compared to urban regions.

“This reveals an urgent public health issue in B.C.—one that physicians can act on by advocating for greater access to youth mental health services in high-risk regions,”

says Dr. Ian Pike, BCIRPU director, professor in the department of pediatrics at the University of British Columbia, and investigator with BC Children’s Hospital.

The study found that 81 per cent of the children and youth who poisoned themselves were girls.

The most common reason for adolescent self-harm is the desire to relieve psychological pain. Given the recent increases in depression diagnoses and antidepressant prescriptions for girls age 12 to 19, mental health and antidepressant accessibility may have contributed to increased self-poisoning rates among girls.

“Although antidepressants can increase young people’s risk of suicidal thoughts, the benefits of antidepressant treatment greatly outweigh the potential dangers,” Dr. Pike says. “Physicians should monitor young patients for signs of mental health concerns, closely monitor those who are prescribed antidepressants and discuss alternative coping strategies.”

Quick Facts:

  • Self-poisoning refers to purposely self-inflicted poisoning, including both attempted suicide and non-suicidal self-harm events.
  • Overdoses from all drugs (including illegal drugs) were included in the study, as long as the individual was purposely poisoning themselves. Unintentional drug overdoses were not included.
  • The most common substance used was non-opioid painkillers (e.g. acetaminophen and ibuprofen), while the second most common substance was medication for anxiety and depression.


Learn more.

The BC Injury Research and Prevention Unit (BCIRPU) has worked to reduce the societal and economic burden of injury in British Columbia since 1997. Through high-quality and comprehensive injury data, evidence-based practices, co-ordination and collaboration, the Unit has maintained a successful program of injury surveillance and research, which has contributed to the understanding and prevention of injury in B.C. and beyond. Serving as a hub, BCIRPU plays a central role in co-ordinating and supporting injury prevention initiatives throughout the province and Canada. The Unit is located at BC Children’s Hospital in Vancouver, Canada, and is a core research program within the BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute’s Evidence to Innovation Theme.

BC Children’s Hospital, a program of the Provincial Health Services Authority provides expert care for the province’s most seriously ill or injured children, youth and young adults, including newborns. Child and Youth Mental Health provides a diverse range of specialized and one-of-a-kind tertiary mental health and substance use services for children, adolescents and young adults across the province. For more information, visit or follow us on Twitter @BCChildrensHosp.

The Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA) plans, manages and evaluates selected specialty and province-wide health care services across BC, working with the five geographic health authorities to deliver province-wide solutions that improve the health of British Columbians. For more information, visit or follow us on Twitter @PHSAofBC.

Media Contact:

Afton Doe
Communications Coordinator
BC Injury Research and Prevention Unit
PHSA Media line: 778.867.7472