According to a study published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, the number of children and teens in the United States who visited emergency rooms for having suicidal thoughts and suicidal attempts has doubled between 2007 and 2015.
Using public data from the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, of the 300 emergency rooms sampled, researchers tracked the number of children between the ages of five and eighteen who received a diagnosis of suicidal ideation or suicide attempt each year. The average age, at the time of evaluation, was thirteen years old. 43% of the visits were children between the ages of five and eleven.
“The numbers are very alarming,” Dr. Brett Burstein, the lead study author and a pediatric emergency room physician at Montreal Children’s Hospital of McGill University Health Centre told CNN. “It also represents a larger percentage of all pediatric emergency department visits. Where suicidal behavior among the pediatric population was just 2% of all visits, that’s now up to 3.5%.”
It’s hard to comprehend that children are experiencing suicidal thoughts and depression at such a young age. However, child psychiatrists aren’t as shocked.
"We know that suicide and depression have been rising significantly," Dr. Gene Beresin, executive director of The Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at Massachusetts General Hospital and professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, who was not involved in the study, told CNN.
There are two factors that could be causing the upswing in cases of suicide and depression among children and teens. The first being the significant amount of pressure put on youth to succeed. "Kids are feeling more pressure to achieve, more pressure in school, and are more worried about making a living than in previous years," Beresin said. The second factor could be linked to the ever-growing popularity of social media and bullying. According to a Pew Research study, 59% of kids report being victims of cyberbullying.
Whatever the reasons, the numbers are startling. And, Beresin doesn’t see the numbers slowing down anytime soon. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry found a distressing shortage of practicing child psychiatrists, with less than seventeen per 100,000 children. That means parents and their children may face increasingly long wait times to get help.
If someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, there is help available. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides support around the clock and is free and confidential.
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