The study found a ‘tremendous’ increase in the number of children going to the emergency room with suicidal thoughts

Editor’s note: If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or mental health issues, please call 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, or visit the hotline website.


There has been a steady increase in the number of children seen in emergency rooms with suicidal thoughts, according to a new study — and the increase began even before the Covid-19 pandemic, which brought Standard High Demand Psychological services for children.

The effects of the epidemic drew renewed interest suicide among adolescents and young children. In June, the Biden administration described the recent rise in rates of depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts among children as An unprecedented mental health crisis. ”

The study, published Monday in the Journal of Pediatrics, used data from hospitals in Illinois. Researchers looked at the number of children ages 5 to 19 who sought help with suicide in emergency departments between January 2016 and June 2021.

In that period, there were 81,051 visits to the emergency department by young people Coded for suicidal ideation. About a quarter of these visits convert to hospital stays.

The study found that visits to the emergency room with suicidal thoughts increased 59% from 2016-2017 to 2019-21. There was a corresponding increase in cases where suicidal ideation was the main diagnosis, increasing from 34.6% to 44.3%.

Hospitalizations for suicidal thoughts increased 57% between fall 2019 and fall 2020.

“It really highlights how mental health concerns were really an issue before the pandemic. I mean, we’ve seen this massive increase in [emergency department] “Visits for children of all ages, frankly, in 2019, it’s very concerning,” said study co-author Dr. Audrey Breuer, MD, attending physician in advanced general pediatrics and primary care at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago. “We’ve seen more kids than we usually do, because…we didn’t necessarily think we’d have problems about suicidal ideation. We saw a 5-year-old.”

“Seeing them present to mental health emergency departments or for suicide-related visits is deeply concerning.”

Brewer believes the true numbers are probably much higher than the study found, because not all children with suicidal thoughts go to the emergency room.

Experts say it is not a problem that is unique to any country.

Nicholas Holmes, senior vice president and chief operating officer at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego, said the increase in the number of children seeking help in his health care system has been “profound.”

said Holmes, who was not involved in the new experiment’s research.

He said Radhi, the largest children’s hospital on the West Coast, is lucky to have a child and adolescent psychiatric unit.

To help more of these children, the Holmes Hospital System is working with the county health and human services to help create a mental and behavioral health campus focused on pediatrics. It will double the size of Rady’s inpatient behavioral health unit, as well as strengthen services for children who need treatment but do not need to be hospitalized.

Other places in the US are not so fortunate. There is a nationwide shortage in the family of children who need mental health help, Research has shown. 2020 Federal survey It found that the number of residential treatment facilities for children was 30% down from what it was in 2012.

Lack of care has been accompanied by a significant increase in the prevalence of mental health challenges that can lead to suicide. In 2019, 1 in 3 high school students and half of all female students reported persistent feelings of hopelessness and sadness, up from 40% in 2009. There was 36% increase in students who reported suicidal ideation, according to US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The new study cannot pinpoint exactly why so many young people go to the hospital with thoughts of suicide, but Breuer thinks it may be a combination of factors.

She said that many children who have been hospitalized with suicidal thoughts have other psychological problems such as anxiety, depression, and substance abuse.

Children also respond to traumas in their lives and social impacts on their health such as poverty, historical trauma, marginalization, problems at school, cyberbullying, stress caused by social media, as well as a lack of access to counseling and treatment.

Brewer said adults can intervene when a child is contemplating suicide. She advises caregivers to look for problems at school or among friends and watch for a child who is isolating himself or showing signs of anxiety or aggression more than usual.

“They may act out or have trouble sleeping. Irritability, withdrawal, and isolation are many things we often think about,” Breuer said.

It never hurts to ask your pediatrician for help on how to help a child who is struggling.

“It is important for parents to feel able to sit down and listen to their children and talk to them. Really try to connect and understand what is going on with them and help foster positive relationships,” Brewer said.

She said she hopes mental health care will become less stigmatizing and more accessible to children.

“We really need to develop more of a strategy to help support all species in different ways and really focus on some of those social health trauma and impacts,” Brewer said. “We need to make sure more children have safe places to grow and thrive.”

Leave a Comment