The number of kids who struggle with thoughts of suicide or attempt to kill themselves is rising. New pediatric research reveals that children ages 5 to 17 visited children’s hospitals for suicidal thoughts or attempts about twice as often in 2015 as in 2008. Youth of all ages showed increased affects but the greatest increases were amongst older adolescents.
Researchers examined billing data from 2008 to 2015 from a database of 49 children’s hospitals across the U.S. which included all emergency department encounters, stays for observation and inpatient hospitalizations at those hospitals. During the seven-year period there were 115,856 visits for suicidal ideation or attempts. In 2008 such visits tallied 0.7 percent of total children’s hospital visits, but by 2015 the figure had jumped to 1.8 percent of all visits. Nearly 1 in 7 required intensive care, with more than half requiring at least one night of hospitalization.
About half of the suicide-related hospital visits during the studied time were from 15 to 17 year olds, though those in the 12- to 14 age range made up 37 percent of visits and kids age 5 to 11 accounted for the remaining 13 percent.
Dr. Robert Dicker, associate director of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, N.Y. was not involved in the study but in when interviewed by NPR stated “It really speaks to the stress and the strain at school,” noting that “kids appear to be under much more academic success to achieve and their perception of falling short.”
Gregory Plemmons, a leader contributor to the study, drew attention to social media’s influence on students “…becoming more disconnected and not having relationships with real people, and at the same time, …. being fed a false distortion of what reality is, where everything looks great onscreen”. He added that cyberbullying and sexting could also be risk factors, pressures that older generations just didn’t have to deal with.
Other possible contributors noted in the study included earlier puberty in girls, as the onset of puberty is a risk factor for suicide and girls made up two-thirds of the hospital visits during the study period.
“We know there are a lot of patients still out there who have clinical depression who are not accessing care,” Plemmons stated. Adding that the most important first step to suicide prevention can be taken by anyone – asking a young person how they are feeling, not just how they are doing.
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IMAGE: Teens visiting the hospital. (arabianEye/Getty Images)