CDC reports spike in ER visits for suicide attempts by youths during the pandemic

The proportion of mental health-related visits to hospital emergency departments went up 31% among youth aged 12 to 17 years in 2020 compared to the previous year, a new study found.

Although people aged 12 to 25 years made fewer emergency department visits for suspected suicide attempts from March 29 to April 25, 2020, these visits began increasing for children aged 12 to 17 years, especially among girls, by early May 2020, according to a report released Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC said the COVID-19 shutdowns may have been extremely hard on America’s youth.

“Young persons might represent a group at high risk because they might have been particularly affected by mitigation measures, such as physical distancing (including a lack of connectedness to schools, teachers, and peers); barriers to mental health treatment; increases in substance use; and anxiety about family health and economic problems, which are all risk factors for suicide,” the researchers wrote in the report.

The average weekly number of emergency room visits for suspected suicide attempts among girls aged 12 to 17 years grew about 26% from July 26 to August 22 compared to the same period the previous year.

This year, from February 21 to March 20, the reported average weekly emergency department visits for suspected suicide attempts were even higher for girls of this age group, increasing almost 51% compared to the same period in 2019.

For the report, CDC researchers pulled data from a national surveillance program to study trends of emergency department visits for suspected suicide attempts from January 1, 2019, to May 15, 2021, among persons aged 12 to 25 years.

Emergency department visits among males increased 3.7% during winter 2021 compared to the same period the year prior.

While the number of weekly emergency department visits dropped during spring 2020 among youth aged 12 to 17 years, it increased 22% during summer 2020 and 39% during winter 2021.

For men and women aged 18 to 25 years, emergency department visits for suspected suicide attempts also dipped during spring 2020 compared to spring 2019 but then increased. The emergency department visit rate was 1.6 times higher during spring 2020, 1.1 times as high during summer 2020 and 1.3 times as high during winter 2021 when compared to the 2019 rate.

A quarter of adults aged 18 to 24 years surveyed reported suicidal ideation related to the pandemic in the past month in June 2020.

While the researchers found increases in emergency department visits, they said it doesn’t mean that suicide deaths have climbed. There was an overall decrease in age-adjusted suicide rates from the third quarter of 2019, July through September, when compared to the third quarter of last year, provisional mortality data shows.

The CDC researchers noted the average emergency department visit rate for mental health concerns and suspected child abuse and neglect, both risk factors for suicide attempts, also increased in 2020. On the other hand, adults might have been more aware of suicidal thoughts and behaviors due to spending more at home with their children and thus were more likely to take them to emergency departments.

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