In a troubling sign that anxiety and depression are taking hold of America's youth, new research shows a doubling since 2008 in the number of kids and teens who've been hospitalized for attempted suicide or suicidal thoughts. Almost two-thirds of those encounters were girls.
Using data from the Pediatric Health Information System (PHIS), the researchers used billing codes to identify emergency department encounters, observation stays and inpatient hospitalizations tied to suicide ideation and attempts.
"We noticed that anecdotally here in our own hospital over the last several years, we would have a fairly quiet summer as far as kids coming in for mental health issues, then right about four to six weeks after school started, we became inundated", he said, adding that the figures were consistent across all regions of the country. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt, said that the study is one of only a few to report higher rates of hospitalization for suicide during the academic school year. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt University, in Nashville.
NBC News noted half of the suicide-related hospital encounters involved teens aged 15 to 17; 37 percent were 12 to 14; nearly 13 percent were children aged 5 to 11 years. In addition to looking at overall suicide ideation and attempt rates in school-age children and adolescents, the researchers analyzed the data month-by-month and found seasonal trends in the encounters. Twelve percent of the encounters occurred among children ages 5 to 11.
Suicide is also a significant public health issue for adults. They suggested "age- and sex-specific approaches to suicide screening and prevention". Peaks for encounters among the groups were highest in the fall and spring, and lowest in the summer. "We were also surprised to see the strong temporal association with the academic calendar (hospitalization rates were twice as high in October than July, for instance)".
"Youth may face increased stress and decreased mental health when school is in session", the authors wrote.
Lead study author, Greg Plemmons, M.D., an associate professor of Clinical Pediatrics at Monroe Carrell Jr.
Study limitations included potential misclassification of non-suicidal self-harm encounters as suicide ideation or suicide attempts.