ER Visits for Suicide Attempts, Suicidal Thoughts Among Children Nearly Doubled

THE NUMBER OF EMERGENCY department visits for suicide attempts or suicidal thoughts among children nearly doubled in less than a decade, a new analysis shows.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for children, adolescents and young adults: About 4,600 people under 24 years old die by suicide in the U.S. every year, though many more young people survive suicide attempts.

The new study, published Monday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, indicates that from 2007 to 2015, the estimated number of annual ED visits for suicidal ideation or attempted suicide among children 5 to 17 years old skyrocketed from 580,000 to 1.12 million.

An estimated 87.2 percent of these emergency department visits were for suicide attempts, the study says. Notably, the number of pediatric emergency department visits overall did not significantly increase during the time period studied.

"Attempted suicide is the strongest predictor of subsequent death by suicide, and many children with suicide attempts and suicidal ideation first present to an emergency department," reseachers said.

Study authors compiled the estimates based on 59,921 emergency department visits for children younger than 18 that were coded as suicide attempts or suicidal thoughts. The median age of these patients was 13, while about 43 percent of visits were for children ages 5 to 10.

An estimated 40.6 percent of patients were privately insured, while 40.5 percent were covered through Medicaid. The vast majority of patients were discharged from the emergency department; just 2.1 percent of patients were hospitalized.

Because the analysis included a broad range of hospitals, including nonteaching and non-pediatric hospitals, the findings indicate there are "more at-risk young children than described among pediatric hospitals alone," the study says.

The reasons for the increase were unclear but likely are "multifactorial," researchers said. Suicide attempts and suicidal ideation are considered different behaviors – with different behaviors and predictors – and likely carry different levels of risk of future death by suicide, the study says.

"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 says. By Gaby Galvin

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