The number of teens and children visiting emergency rooms for suicidal thoughts or attempts doubled between 2007 and 2015, according to new research published this week.
Researchers looked at a large, nationwide sample of data from the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control’s National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey for the study. They examined the number of children between ages 5 and 18 who were diagnosed with suicidal ideation or suicide attempt.
The national survey, according to the CDC, features comprehensive patient visit data from more than 300 emergency rooms “weighted to produce national estimates which are widely used by health care researchers, policy analysts, congressional staff, the news media, and many others to improve our knowledge of medical practice patterns.”
What they ultimately found was “alarming,” lead author Brett Burstein, a pediatric emergency room physician at Montreal Children’s Hospital, told CNN. “I worry that we have not yet seen the peak.”
According to the data, diagnoses of either suicidal ideation or suicidal attempt increased from 580,000 in 2007 to 1.12 million in 2015. As a percentage of all emergency room visits in that time period for children, visits for suicidal thoughts and attempts rose from 2.17% to 3.5%. The average age of a child at the time of diagnosis was 13.
Researchers also pointed out that 43.1% of either diagnoses were for children between 5-11 years. There was no statistically significant change in total ED visits during the nine-year period.
In an interview with USA Today, Burstein noted that EDs just aren’t equipped to deal with this, but the majority of patients tracked in the NHAMC survey did not go to specialized pediatric centers.
“Findings suggest a critical need to augment community mental health resources, ED physician preparedness, and post–emergency department risk reduction initiatives to decrease the burden of suicide among children,” Burstein and his colleagues wrote in the study, published Monday in JAMA Pediatrics.
Psychiatrists have pointed to multiple potential factors behind the increase in depression and suicidal behaviors among youth, from rising academic pressures, the influence of social media, lack of access to appropriate health care or cyberbullying.
The National Institute of Mental Health identifies suicide as a major public health concern in which trained mental health professionals can play a pivotal role in helping someone understand their feelings and improve wellness and resiliency.
Both psychotherapy, including cognitive behavioral therapy, and medication can be used to treat any underlying mental health problems. Psychotherapy in particular, according to NAMI, can help a person with suicidal thoughts recognize unhealthy patterns of thinking and behavior, validate troubling feelings, and learn coping skills.
If you or anyone you know is contemplating suicide, call or text the 24-hour hotline at 800-273-8255. For more information, go to www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
- Suicide prevention resources for parents, guardians and families
- Suicide prevention resources for teens
- Suicide prevention resources for survivors of suicide loss
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