Child and Teen Suicide Attempts Rose 22 Percent During Pandemic, Researchers Say
Emergency room visits for suicide attempts among minors increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the number of visits from youths who considered suicide also rising, researchers have found.
In a paper published in The Lancet Psychiatry on Thursday, researchers from the University of Calgary, the University of Ottawa, Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO), Toronto’s SickKids Hospital for Sick Children, and University College Dublin conducted an analysis of 42 studies from 18 nations that looked at 11.1 million emergency department visits by children and adolescents.
The mean age of the samples was 11.7 years, with 57.6 percent of visits being girls and 43.4 percent being boys, the authors wrote.
The paper compared data of emergency department visits which took place prior to the pandemic against visits that took place during the pandemic until July 2021. It found that there was a 22 percent increase in youth visits for suicide attempts.
This surge in suicide visit numbers happened even though there was a 32 percent reduction in pediatric emergency department visits for health-related reasons during the pandemic. In addition, there was also an 8 percent increase in visits for suicidal ideation—referring to individuals who entertain suicidal thoughts.
“At the beginning of the pandemic, our work showed concerning increases in depression and anxiety symptoms among children and youth globally,” said Nicole Racine, clinical psychologist and chair of child and youth mental health at CHEO, in a press release Thursday.
“This new study further demonstrates that the kids have not been alright during the pandemic, with increased presentation to the emergency department for serious concerns.”
Home Alone During Pandemic
The discrepancy between the 32 percent drop in pediatric visits for health reasons and a 22 percent increase in visits related to suicide may seem confusing, but Sheri Madigan, lead author of the study, said this makes sense.
The fear of getting infected with COVID-19 and other factors kept people away from emergency department visits during the pandemic for most health conditions.
At the same time, children’s physical activity fell while screen time rose. In many families, parents lost jobs, family violence increased, and the mental health of parents declined. The risk factors for mental illness in children thus grew during this period.
“These are all accelerants to mental distress,” Madigan said. “Children have an ability to show resilience in difficult times, but they were pushed past what is tolerable, beyond their capacity-to-cope threshold. And now, far more kids and teens are in crisis than was the case before the pandemic.”
Earlier studies have also shown a spike in suspected suicide attempts among young people amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a 2021 study, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that in 2020, the number of mental health emergency department visits among those aged 12 to 17 years went up by 31 percent compared to 2019.