A recent study sheds light on the growing juvenile suicide issue, showing that visits to emergency rooms by children and teenagers with suicidal intentions sharply rose even before the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to a research released today by the American Academy of Pediatrics, hospitalizations for “suicidal ideation” (or suicidal thoughts) among 5- to 19-year-olds surged 57% from fall 2019 to fall 2020 and emergency room visits rose 59% from 2016 to 2021.
In a press release from the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, author Audrey Brewer, MD, MPH, stated that while there has been much discussion about mental health issues in young people during the epidemic, these issues existed before to the pandemic. The problem has existed for a very long time and is just growing worse.
Children between the ages of 5 and 19 who visited 81,105 emergency rooms at 205 hospitals in Illinois between 2016 and 2021 were the subjects of the study.
The largest number of monthly visits was recorded in October 2020, according to the study. “There was a very strong jump in fall 2019, followed by a comparable spike during the pandemic fall of 2020,” the scientists wrote. The number of visits to the emergency room for suicide ideation among adolescents aged 14 to 17 was higher than that of all other age groups combined.
The CDC said that suicide is the second most common cause of death among 10- to 19-year-olds last year.
The new study, which assesses emergency room data for suicidal thoughts—a crucial point-of-care for meeting the mental health needs of young people—is being hailed as a benchmark. According to the research, healthcare professionals were becoming more likely to label suicidal thoughts as the primary diagnosis.
According to Brewer’s statement in the news release, there are two different sorts of suicidal ideation: those who are actively considering suicide and those who are only thinking about it. That might make a difference in a person being admitted to the hospital.
The researchers propose that the early stages of the pandemic saw a delay in care between 2019 (when the initial spike occurred), and that this delay may have contributed to the rise in providers recognising suicidal ideation as the primary diagnosis.
According to the authors, “the early pandemic period corresponded with limited access for many children and their families to paediatric mental health treatments through schools, paediatric primary care homes, and mental health clinics.” As patients avoided going to the emergency room during the first wave of the COVID-19 epidemic, the proportion of visits for children’s mental health increased in comparison to other types. As a result, the rise in hospital admissions in the fall of 2020 might be due to people postponing treatment until their symptoms were worse.
Other experts in the field of health care concurred that the study raised concerns about whether the pandemic was indeed the cause of the crisis.
In a commentary that was included with the paper, Lisa M. Horowitz, PhD, MPH, and Jeffrey A. Bridge, PhD, questioned whether the pandemic had anything to do with the increase or whether it was simply a developing trend. According to the 2022 Surgeon General report and several youth mental health organizations, “these rising rates highlight the deteriorating mental health crisis for youth.”