Emergency room visits for suicidal children and teens have doubled since 2007, study finds

US emergency room visits for suicidal children and teens have doubled since 2007, study finds

  • Anxiety, depression and suicide among teens have been rising steadily in recent years 
  • In 2015, 1.12 million children and teenagers between five and 18 were seen for suicide attempts or suicidal ideation in the US 
  • That was double the  580,000 seen in 2007 
  • Canadian study authors urge that better prevention and doctor-preparedness is ‘critically’ needed, given their findings  

The number of children and teenagers who attempted to take their own lives or were thinking about doing so doubled between 2007 and 2015, a new study reveals. 

In 2007, an estimated 580,000 people between 10 and 18 were seen for suicidal behavior in US emergency rooms. 

By 2015, that number had swollen to 1.12 million, according to alarming research conducted by Montreal Children’s Hospital.  

ER visits for suicide have only ‘accelerated’ upward since 1993, the scientists warn, suggesting a dire need for better preventive efforts and for specialized training for ER doctors. 

Since 2007, the number of children and teenagers seen in US emergency rooms for suicide attempts and ideation (yellow) has doubled, even as overall pediatric visits remained stable 

The mental health of America’s children, teenagers and young adults is in crisis, in the views of many public health experts. 

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people between 10 and 24, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

And attempts, like young people are increasingly making, are the strongest predictor that someone will eventually take their own life, according to previous research. 

Despite campaigns to raise suicide awareness and combat suicide among teenagers and children, the new study’s findings only echo the trends the Canadian research team saw in the US between 1993 and 2008 – only the rise is moving faster, now. 

The Montreal Children’s Hospital team analyzed data from the US’s National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NHAMCS) survey. 

Using a nationally representative sample from that survey, they looked at 30,000 ER visits at 300 randomly selected US hospitals.  

From those numbers, they estimated that there had been 59,921 ER visits for children over the nine-year course of the study. 

Over 1,600 of those visits were related to suicide attempts or ideation – meaning that the children and teenagers had in some way expressed a desire to take their own lives. 

A startling proportion of the children considered or actively tried to end their own lives were young. 

In fact, 43 percent of the children who visited the ER for these concerns were between just five and 11 years old (although the study authors note only two percent of these children were admitted). 

Some have punted the idea that social media and its tendency to stoke negative self-comparisons and replace in-person connections may be fueling increases. 

Once they extrapolated the numbers of hospital visits to cover nationwide likely visits, the researchers estimated that while the overall number of children seen in the ER remained stable suicide attempt and ideation visits surged by 92.1 percent. 

A previous, separate survey found that specialized hospitals saw the same two-fold increase in visits for suicidal thoughts and attempts among children and teens. 

The bottom line is that suicide has been and continues to be a major growing public health concern and there has only been an ‘acceleration’ in the increase in ER visits for struggling teens and children. 

‘Findings suggest a critical need to augment community mental health resources, ED physician preparedness, and post–emergency department risk reduction initiatives to decrease the burden of suicide among children,’ the study authors wrote. 

  • If you or someone you know has contemplated or is concerned about suicide, you can speak to professionals for confidential support: 
  • For confidential support in the UK call the Samaritans on 116123 or visit a local Samaritans branch, see www.samaritans.org for details. 
  • For confidential support in the US call the National Suicide Prevention Line on 1-800-273-8255  
  • For confidential support in Australia call the Lifeline 24-hour crisis support on 13 11 14