The Wall Street Journal article below appeared in their May 18, 2018, edition. I have included the article in its entirety here for your convenience. nw
Youth Suicidal Behavior Is on the Rise, Especially Among Girls
Suicide was the second-leading cause of death among 10- to 24-year-olds in 2016, up from third place in earlier years, according to the CDC
Updated May 15, 2018 2:21 p.m. ET
A new study finding a rise in suicidal thoughts and attempts among young people adds to the research pointing to a decline in mental health among U.S. children and adolescents.
The study showed the proportion of young people treated at 31 U.S. children’s hospitals for suicidal thoughts or attempts more than doubled between 2008 and 2015, from 0.66% of all visits to 1.82% of all visits. Rates were higher during the school year than in the summer, and nearly two-thirds of the visits involved girls, according to results published in the medical journal Pediatrics.
The research had limitations: It didn’t include data from all U.S. hospitals or suicidal behaviors that didn’t involve a hospital visit. Still, physicians said it fits a pattern of findings that show rates of depression and suicide-related behaviors and deaths are rising among young people.
Loss of Hope
Suicide was the second-leading cause of death among 10- to 24-year-olds in 2016, up from third place in earlier years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It’s such a critical public-health crisis right now,” said Lisa Horowitz, a staff scientist and pediatric psychologist at the National Institute of Mental Health, which is attempting to boost suicide prevention in part by improving screening at emergency departments and pediatrician offices.
Researchers say they aren’t certain what is driving the growth in depression and suicidal behavior but theorize that decreasing stigma might be causing more children and their parents to seek help, leading to wider reporting of the problems.
Some early research has suggested children’s use of social media and smartphones may also be factors, fueling cyberbullying and feelings of inadequacy. “We need more data to say that’s a contributing cause,” said Ramin Mojtabai, a psychiatrist and professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Suicide deaths in the total U.S. population rose from 10.4 per 100,000 people in 2000 to 13.4 per 100,000 people in 2016, according to the CDC. Suicide deaths in 10- to 19-year-olds over the same period rose from 4.7 to 6.1 per 100,000 people.
In the new Pediatrics study, researchers analyzed billing data for patients ages 5 to 17 to identify emergency-room visits and hospitalizations for suicide attempts and suicidal ideation, the clinical term for persistent suicidal thoughts. They drew the details from a database managed by the Children’s Hospital Association, which includes billing and clinical data from children’s hospitals in most major metropolitan areas.
More than half of the suicide-related visits resulted in inpatient hospitalization. Of these, 13% were treated in intensive-care units. The researchers found the visits occurred at a higher rate during the school year, with October accounting for nearly twice as many visits as July.
“What our study made clear was school was a huge influence,” said one of the lead researchers, Gregory Plemmons, a physician and associate professor of clinical pediatrics at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville. He said academic pressure and bullying could play a role, though the study didn’t delve into the causes.
The study found the rise in suicide-related hospital visits was higher for girls, who made up nearly two-thirds of such visits overall. The researchers called for further research on possible gender differences in youth mental health, noting that a previous study found larger increases in depression in teenage girls compared with boys over the decade up to 2014.
Dr. Plemmons said he became interested in conducting the study after noticing an increasing number of beds at his hospital being used for young people in need of psychiatric treatment, often after exhibiting suicidal behavior.
“What I’m noticing is kids seem to be less resilient and to have more pressure,” he said. “I think social media also fuels this Instagram life of everything is perfect and cool and you don’t see the other side of life.”
One study published last year found U.S. adolescents who spent more time using electronic devices and social media were more likely to report depressive symptoms or at least one instance of suicidal behavior.
“The increases in new media screen activities and the decreases in nonscreen activities may explain why depression and suicide increased among U.S. adolescents since 2010,” the study, published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science, concluded.
The researchers based their findings on surveys in which adolescents reported their daily activities and symptoms of depression or of suicidal thinking or attempts.
That study found a particular uptick in mental-health issues beginning around 2011 and 2012 and noted that about half of U.S. teens were using smartphones by late 2012. The study also found the correlation between screen time and mental-health problems was stronger in girls.