The Alarming Rise in Suicidal Thoughts and Self-Harm in Kids

We have a serious problem on our hands.

Researchers have found evidence of a tragic trend in the United States: The rates of children and teens being admitted to hospitals for thoughts of suicide or self-harm more than doubled in the last decade.

The findings were presented at the 2017 Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting in San Francisco this past weekend and point to how dire the problem is.

Researchers analyzed data from 32 children’s hospitals in the U.S. between 2008 and 2015, identifying instances where patients between 5 and 17 years old were discharged with a “diagnosis of suicidality or serious self-harm,” according to the study’s press release.

They found a total of 118,363 cases that matched this criteria. While most of the patients were between 15 and 17 years old, 36 percent were between 12 and 14 years old and 12.7 percent were between 5 and 11 years old.

Image courtesy of Unsplash

In addition to the alarming volume of children being admitted for suicidal thoughts or self-harm, the authors saw these numbers grow dramatically during the course of the study. In 2008, the annual percentage of suicidality or self-harm-related encounters within these age groups was 0.67 percent. By 2015 it had more than doubled to 1.79 percent.

While these findings are startling and sad, the research can help better inform children’s hospitals about how to handle such situations, something lead author Gregory Plemmons, MD, an associate professor of pediatrics at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt University, pointed out in the press release. He added, “research to understand factors contributing to these alarming trends is urgently needed.”

These findings come at a time when the topic of teen suicide is getting a lot of attention. When Netflix’s show 13 Reasons Why entered the zeitgeist, it sparked controversy, both from people who feel the show glamorizes suicide and those who think it can serve as a conversation starter for an important and often undiscussed issue.

Regardless of your thoughts on the show, these statistics are a reminder that this is really happening. Hopefully the ongoing conversation and research on child and teen suicide can help us better support kids struggling with their mental health.

Read the press release here.