Suicidal Thoughts Increasing In Youth Since Before Pandemic, Says Experts

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Suicidal thoughts were increasing before, but the pandemic has significantly impacted mental health in the United States.

However, pediatricians are especially worried about one pattern that has emerged in recent months: an increase in the number of teenagers who have had suicidal thoughts or attempted suicide.

Between July and October of last year, Boston Children's Hospital saw a 47 percent rise in kids having to be treated for suicidal ideation or attempts, compared to the same time the year before.

The Children's Center in Salt Lake City, which provides mental health services to children aged eight and under, said the "lines haven't stopped ringing" with families seeking help.

Staff workers at the Riverbend Center for Mental Health, which partners with many school districts in northwest Alabama, saw a 55 percent rise in safety measures for children aged 6 to 13 who were at risk of harming themselves from 2018 to 2019. 

Even as the number of patients in the Children's Minnesota hospital system decreased during the coronavirus pandemic, the number of people seeking mental health treatment remained constant.

READ: How To Decrease Suicide Risk in Teens

The upward trend that began last year has continued. For example, on the day this story was released, March 25, Children's Hospital said it had more than 50 children under the age of 17 who were either admitted or waiting for an inpatient bed for reasons related to suicide.

A reporter talked with three doctors who are seeing this firsthand: Dr. Patricia Ibeziako, associate chief for clinical care in Boston Children's Hospital's psychiatry department; Dr. Elizabeth Pinsky, an infant, adolescent, and adult psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital; and Dr. Michelle Durham, a child, adolescent, and adult psychiatrist at Boston Medical Center.

According to the psychiatrists, more time and money should be focused on community-level care and access to therapies for children from all backgrounds, income levels, and insurance policies to prevent children from reaching the point that they need treatment.

They've been admitted to the hospital because they're suicidal. However, according to the physicians, multiple stressors linked to the pandemic are contributing to the despair that is driving children to emergency rooms and causing them to be admitted.

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Highlights from the Interview on the Suicidal Thoughts of Kids during COVID-19 Pandemic

For Dr. Patricia Ibeziako, the stresses that we've heard about from patients presenting with suicidality over the past six to eight months are academic difficulties, including falling grades, having trouble concentrating, family stresses, and disagreements, as well as social alienation and reduced social connections.

She admitted, however, that school and academic stress have always been popular topics of discussion. Those were the most commonly identified stressor in children and adolescents who have mental health problems and are admitted to the hospital. It's just a matter of much higher patient numbers and pandemic-related effects now.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth Pinsky, M.D. considers the young people we meet, including the teenagers we know who are going through the natural and crucial process of separating from their families and forming an independent identity. Athletes, actresses, mates, and community members are some of these personalities.

And we've taken those things away from these kids in a way that targets the factors that contribute to their overall wellbeing. We are aware of children who are dedicated to sports. One of the reasons we see such an increase in self-harm is the losses that teens, in particular, are experiencing around identity and who they are in the world.

Lastly, Michelle Durham, Ph.D., believes that families have always dealt with food insecurity, housing insecurity, working many jobs, and multigenerational families. Financial difficulties and the question of whether or not they'll be evicted or allowed to keep your home are complex for these families and what made this whole year challenging and triggers self-harm.

READ MORE: New Study Reveals Major Cause of Depression Among Children

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