• Article
  • May 23, 2018

Pediatric Suicide-Related Hospital Visits Double

The number of encounters at children's hospitals for suicidal thoughts or attempted suicide increased steadily from 2008-15, nearly two-thirds were girls. 

A new study, "Hospitalization for Suicide Ideation or Attempt," revealed the number of school-age children and adolescents hospitalized for suicidal thoughts or attempts has more than doubled since 2008. The eight-year study, published in Pediatrics, looked at trends in emergency department and inpatient encounters for children ages 5-17 who thought about, planned or attempted suicide.

Researchers identified 115,856 encounters at U.S. children's hospitals from 2008-15. Here are key findings:

  • The number of school-age children and adolescents hospitalized for suicidal thoughts or attempts has more than doubled since 2008
  • Nearly two-thirds were girls
  • Increases in encounters were across all age groups
  • The most encounters were among ages 15-17

Previously published data has shown that adolescent girls appear to be at an increasing risk for thinking about suicide, suicide attempts and mood disorders. This study reports a similar increase in percentages of females compared to males who struggle with suicidal thoughts or attempt suicide.

Suicide-related encounters by month

Using Pediatric Health Information System (PHIS), researchers analyzed monthly encounter data. That breakdown revealed seasonal trends with peaks for encounters in the fall and spring and lowest rates in the summer. This trend is contrary to encounter rates for adults, which historically occur during the summer, suggesting young people may face increased stress and mental health challenges during school months.

  • July had the fewest encounters with 5.9 percent of annual cases, followed by June and August
  • Peak months were October at 9.9 percent and March at 9.7 percent of annual cases

"To our knowledge, this is one of only a few studies to report higher rates of hospitalization for suicide during the academic school year," says study lead author Greg Plemmons, M.D., associate professor of Clinical Pediatrics at Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt.

The study's authors say these results highlight the need for exploring the relationship between school and suicidal ideation, recognizing that the role of academics is a complex one and there may be additional influences regarding seasonality.

Increased stress and the effects on mental health

The team concluded that the increase of pediatric mental health disorders has significance for children's hospitals and health care delivery systems. "The growing impact of mental health issues in pediatrics on hospitals and clinics can no longer be ignored," says Plemmons, "particularly in a time when mental health resources for children appear to be static and woefully scarce across the U.S."

The authors say that these findings have important implications for exploring age- and gender-specific approaches to suicide screening and prevention interventions, as well as further research in examining causal factors for suicide ideation and suicide attempts.

Other researchers involved in the study were: Matthew Hall, Ph.D.; Stephanie Doupnik, M.D.; James Gay, M.D.; Charlotte Brown, M.D.; Whitney Browning, M.D.; Katherine Freundlich, M.D.; David Johnson, M.D.; Carrie Lind, M.D.; Kris Rehm, M.D.; Susan Thomas, M.D.; Derek Williams, M.D., M.P.H.

Send questions or comments to magazine@childrenshospitals.org.