Kids are being hospitalized for suicidal thoughts or attempts at an alarming rate
As rates of attempted suicide and suicidal thoughts rise in all age groups, that includes kids. A new study released this week showed that between 2007 and 2015, rates of children hospitalized for suicidal thoughts or attempts doubled. Doubled.
The study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, showed diagnoses of suicidal ideation in minors increased from 580,000 cases in 2007, to 1.12 million in 2015. Over the course of the study, the average age of the children evaluated for suicidal thoughts and attempts was just 13, and 43 percent of patients were between the ages of 5 and 11. If that doesn’t terrify you to your very bones, you need to pay more attention.
“The numbers are very alarming,” lead study author Dr. Brett Burstein told CNN. “It also represents a larger percentage of all pediatric emergency department visits. Where suicidal behavior among the pediatric population was just 2% of all visits, that’s now up to 3.5%.”
What isn’t clear from the study is why so many more kids are thinking about suicide. But researchers have a lot of theories.
It could stem from increased pressure to achieve in school, and fears about being able to make a living in the future. Parents are more stressed now than they’ve ever been before, and that tension can easily get passed on to their kids. And then there’s the rise of social media, as well as cyberbullying. The CDC reports that 15 percent of kids reported having been bullied last year, but that number is likely much, much higher, because so many kids are reluctant to talk about their experiences being bullied.
Whatever the reason, though, it’s clear we need to take better care of our kids’ mental health. Only with the rise in numbers of kids hospitalized for suicidal thoughts and attempts, another problem has arisen: There aren’t enough active child and adolescent psychologists in the United States to tackle these kinds of numbers.
CNN reports that there are currently fewer than 17 providers available for every 100,000 kids, which is not nearly enough. When kids are in crisis, they need access to mental healthcare, and it seems like it just isn’t available for them in many cases.
This study is alarming enough on its own. But in February, another study was published in the same journal, reporting that half of kids in the U.S. with mental illnesses like depression and anxiety do not receive treatment. Maybe researchers can’t pin down an exact reason so many kids are in a mental health crisis, but with all this data, does the reason even matter? These kids need help.
For now, all parents, caregivers, teachers, siblings and other influences in kids’ lives can do is be open and empathetic, and watch for signs of a crisis. We also have to keep an open dialogue with each other and with kids about mental health and mental illness. The more we talk about it, the less stigma there will be around seeking help. Make sure the kids in your life know that there are ways to get help if they need it. Kids need us, and we can’t fail them in this.