The number of children and teenagers hospitalized for suicide or self-harm has more than doubled in just 10 years, new research reveals.
Data from 31 children’s hospitals across the US shows around 120,000 under-17s have been treated for attempts to take their own life since 2008.
In 2008, suicide attempts or suicidal thoughts accounted for 0.67 percent of child cases in these hospitals. By 2015, that figure had more than doubled to 1.79 percent.
The majority of those attempts came in recent years, and disproportionately affected girls, with two-thirds of cases involving females.
The study also suggests a shifting trend in the ‘high season’ for suicides, with more now recorded during the school year rather than summer.
This graph from the new study shows the doubling of suicide attempts among children across 31 children’s hospitals in the US between 2008 and 2015
The issue disproportionately affected girls, with two-thirds of cases involving females
‘To our knowledge, this is one of only a few studies to report higher rates of hospitalization for suicide during the academic school year,’ said study lead author Greg Plemmons, MD, associate professor of Clinical Pediatrics at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt.
Rates were lowest in summer, a season which has historically seen the highest numbers in adults, suggesting that youth may face increased stress and mental health challenges when school is in session.
Suicide is the third leading cause of death among adolescents in the United States, preceded only by accidents and homicides, according to the U. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
‘The growing impact of mental health issues in pediatrics on hospitals and clinics can longer be ignored,’ said Plemmons, ‘particularly in a time when mental health resources for children appear to be static, and woefully scarce across the U.S.’
Slightly more than half the patients with suicidal thoughts or actions (totaling 59,631) were aged between 15 and 17 years old, while 36.9 percent (43,682) involved 12- to 14-year-olds.
The study suggests a shifting trend in the ‘high season’ for suicides, with more now recorded during the school year rather than summer
Teens between the ages of 15 and 17 had an average annual increase of 0.27 percentage points, and 12- to 14-year-olds an average of 0.25 percent each year. This compares to 0.02 percent for five- to 11-year-olds
An additional 12.7 percent (15,050) of the encounters were with children between the ages of five and 11.
Significant increases were noted in all age groups but were higher among the older children, Dr Plemmons said.
Teens between the ages of 15 and 17 had an average annual increase of 0.27 percentage points, and 12- to 14-year-olds an average of 0.25 percent each year.
This compares to 0.02 percent for five- to 11-year-olds.
The study also revealed seasonal variations in the suicidality and self-harm cases, with the lowest percentage occurring during summer (June through August) and the highest during spring (March through May) and fall (September through November).
Plemmons said the study’s finding echo trends identified in recent data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dr Plemmons added that awareness of these trends is also critical for staff preparedness at children’s hospitals.