NASHVILLE — A new study reveals a disturbing surge in the number of young children hospitalized over suicidal thoughts or attempts in the last decade.
The report published by researchers from Vanderbilt University shows that hospitalizations of children between the ages of 5 and 17 have doubled since 2008.
The study focused on trends in emergency rooms and inpatient encounters for suicidal thoughts or actions from 2008 until 2015. The researchers found 115,856 such encounters for suicide ideation and attempts in emergency departments at 31 children’s hospitals around the U.S. They found that almost two-thirds of these encounters were girls.
Increases of emergency department encounters because of suicidal thoughts or actions increased during the study period for all age groups, but teens aged 15-17 accounted for the most suicidal events — about half. Children aged 12-14 represented 37 percent of the events, while about 13 percent accounted for children between 5 and 11.
Seasonal variation affected suicide rates, as well, with numbers peaking in the fall and spring, and lowest in the summer. More specifically, the month of October saw twice as many suicide-related hospitalizations as those in July. Researchers believe that could point to school-related stress playing a major factor in children who contemplate taking their own life.
The researchers combed through data from the Pediatric Health Information System, looking for billing codes to identify emergency room visits, observation stays, and inpatient hospitalizations related to suicide attempts and thoughts.
“To our knowledge, this is one of only a few studies to report higher rates of hospitalization for suicide during the academic school year,” says lead author Greg Plemmons, of Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, in a news release. “The growing impact of mental health issues in pediatrics on hospitals and clinics can no longer be ignored, particularly at a time when mental health resources for children appear to be static, and woefully scarce across the U.S.”
The full study was published in the May 2018 edition of the journal Pediatrics.