Published: Thu, May 17, 2018
Medical | By Johnnie Horton

Suicidal Thoughts, Attempts On The Rise Among Young People: 'It's A Critical Public-Health Crisis Right Now'

Suicidal Thoughts, Attempts On The Rise Among Young People: 'It's A Critical Public-Health Crisis Right Now'

According to a recent study, the number of suicide attempts in youth has doubled since 2008. Almost two-thirds of those encounters were girls.

Gathering data from the Pediatric Health Information System (PHIS), scientists used billing codes and observed emergency department encounters. It may have something to do with climbing rates of depression and loneliness among young people, or that pediatricians are increasingly referring children with mental health issues to specialists or hospitals.

Gregory Plemmons, the lead author of the study and a researcher as well as paediatrician at the Nashvilles' Vanderbilt University said that the result of the study confirmed what all he had been seeing at the hospitals.

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More than half were hospitalized, and more than 13 percent needed intensive care.

Plemmons' group noted that prior research, such as a study that found larger increases in depressive symptoms in adolescent girls, and "previously reported data has revealed that adolescent girls appear to be at increasing risk for [suicidal ideation, suicide attempts] and mood disorders". The second highest rise was seen among teens aged 12 to 14, who accounted for 37 percent of all cases. Examining encounters by age groups, adolescents (ages 15-17) had the greatest average annual increase (0.27 percentage points, 95% CI 0.23-0.30), followed by adolescents ages 12-14 (0.25 percentage points, 95% CI 0.21-0.27, P 0.001 for both). Young Americans aged 15 to 17 experienced the most significant increases, as did girls, and suicidal thoughts and attempts peaked in the spring and fall while declining 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)". It suggests that the youth may face increased stress and mental health challenges when school is in session.

"To our knowledge, this is one of only a few studies to report higher rates of hospitalization for suicide during the academic school year", Plemmons said. Also, the database is limited to freestanding children's hospitals, and that there was no assessment of biological or psychosocial factors, due to the "ecological design" of the study.

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