The number of school-age children and adolescents hospitalised for suicidal thoughts or attempts has more than doubled since 2008, according to a new Vanderbilt University-led study published in the Journal of Paediatrics.
The study, named Hospitalisation for Suicide Ideation or Attempt, looked at trends in emergency rooms and inpatient incidents of suicide ideation and attempts in children aged five to 17 at US children’s hospitals from 2008 to 2015. Preliminary information from the study was initially presented last spring at the annual meeting of the Paediatric Academic Societies.
During the study period, researchers identified 115,856 incidents of suicide ideation and attempts in emergency departments at 31 children’s hospitals. Nearly two-thirds of those incidents were girls. Meanwhile, increases were seen across all age groups, but they were highest among teens aged 15-17, followed by those aged 12-14.
Just over half of the incidents were children aged 15-17, another 37% were children aged 12-14, and 12.8% were children aged five to 11. Seasonal variation was also seen consistently across the period, with October accounting for nearly twice as many incidents as reported in July.
Using data from the Paediatric Health Information System (PHIS), the researchers used billing codes to identify emergency department incidents, observation stays and inpatient hospitalisations tied to suicide ideation and attempts. In addition to looking at overall suicide ideation and attempt rates in school-age children and adolescents, the researchers analysed the data month-by-month and found seasonal trends in the incidents. Peaks for incidents among the groups were highest in the fall and spring, and lowest in the summer.
“To our knowledge, this is one of only a few studies to report higher rates of hospitalisation for suicide during the academic school year,” said Greg Plemmons, the study’s lead author and associate professor of clinical paediatrics at Monroe Carell Jr Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. He added that rates were lowest during summers, 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 US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
Plemmons said, “the growing impact of mental health issues in paediatrics on hospitals and clinics can no longer be ignored,” adding, “particularly at a time when mental health resources for children appear to be static and woefully scarce across the US.”