A new study revealed the rise in children going to the hospital for suicidal thoughts, which began to go up before the COVID pandemic and lockdowns.
The Pediatrics journal published the findings on Monday, which used information from Illinois hospitals Northwestern University and the Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. The analysts looked at visits to the emergency department for suicidal ideation from January 2016 to 2021 for young people between the ages of 5 to 19 years old.
From 2016-2017 to 2019-2021, the visits went up 59%. Visits where suicidal ideation was the primary diagnosis also correspondingly went up from 34.6% to 44.3%.
While the study shows that such visits went up in Illinois in 2019, the pandemic also appears to have played a role. Hospitalizations rose 57% between the fall of 2019 and the fall of 2020.
The children were 84% less likely to be admitted to the hospital if suicidal ideation was their main diagnosis, and had a higher likelihood of being hospitalized if they had other mental health indicators.
“It just really highlights how mental health concerns were really a problem before the pandemic. I mean, we saw this huge increase in [emergency department] visits for kids of all ages, honestly, in 2019, and it’s very concerning,” study co-author Dr. Audrey Brewer said, per CNN. “We saw more kids than we typically do that we … wouldn’t necessarily have thought would have problems about suicidal ideation. We saw 5-year-olds. To see them presenting to emergency departments for mental health or for suicide-ideation-related visits is very concerning.”
“This is like smoke,” senior author Joe Feinglass said about the data. “And there’s definitely a fire, but we don’t yet know and are not yet addressing what is causing the fire.”
Brewer said lots of the children who were put in the hospital for suicidal thoughts also struggled with other mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety and substance use. She said guardians should be aware of certain indicators of suicidal thoughts, such as if a child is struggling at school or starts to become isolated.
“They may act out or have problems sleeping. Irritability and being more withdrawn and isolating themselves are a lot of things that we oftentimes will think about,” Brewer said. “It’s important for parents to feel empowered to really sit back and listen to their kids and talk to them. Really try to relate and understand what is going on with them and help promote positive relationships.”
“We really need to develop more of a strategy to help support all kinds in different ways and really focus on some of those traumas and social influences of health,” Brewer added. “We need to make sure more children will have safe places to grow and thrive.”
Although the study was done in Illinois, specialists reportedly said this isn’t confined to one area in particular.
“Over the last nine years, where we would see about anywhere from one to two patients a day that were having a behavioral health crisis, now we’re seeing 20-plus a day,” Dr. Nicholas Holmes, senior vice president and chief operating officer at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego, said. He was not involved in the study.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a free hotline for individuals in crisis or distress or for those looking to help someone else. It is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255.