Teens and children are thinking about and attempting suicide more often. Hospitalizations for suicide ideation (SI) or suicide attempt (SA) nearly doubled between 2008 and 2015. Researchers in a new study published in Pediatrics note that such incidents increase during the academic year.
Suicide is a growing problem—and not just among young people. A report in the June 8 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report said that from 1999 to 2016, suicide rates increased among people in all age groups under age 75, with the rate among adults ages 45 to 64 increasing the most, going from 13.2 per 100,000 persons in 1999 to 19.2 per 100,000 in 2016. More than 230,000 people in that age group died by suicide during that time.
In the Pediatrics study, researchers with Vanderbilt University School of Medicine used clinical and billing data in the Pediatric Health Information System database to examine admissions at 31 children’s hospitals across the United States.
There were 115,856 hospital visits for children 5 to 17 years old during this period resulting from SI or SA.
“Annual percentage of all visits for SI and SA almost doubled, increasing from 0.66% in 2008 to 1.82% in 2015,” stated the study, which was published in May. Total annual encounters for SI and SA rose from 6,392 in 2008 to 25,085 in 2015, an increase of almost 300%.
The increases were greatest for adolescents, ages 15 to 17, followed by younger adolescents, ages 12 to 14.
The 15-to-17 group accounted for half of all suicide-related visits and the 12-to-14 group accounted for 37%.
There were seasonal variations, with the peaks occurring in mid-fall and mid-spring and the lowest number of encounters occurring in the summer months.
“To our knowledge, only one other previous study in the medical literature has reported a correlation between risk of SI and SA among children and adolescents and the academic school year,” the study stated.
The study includes the caveat that there needs to be more research regarding possible ties to the academic year and rates of SI and SA, “recognizing that the role of academics is a complex one, and there may also be other additional influences at play regarding seasonality.” Other studies of the seasonality of suicide—research that has not been limited to school-age children and teens—have found that the rate tends to go up in the spring.
The researchers hope the findings will lead to increased depression-screening efforts and will inform the development of intervention strategies for children with behavioral health issues.
“Children’s hospitals are unique in that many sites serve as primary training locations for a variety of pediatric health and behavioral health care providers,” they noted.