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Alarming rise in children hospitalized with suicidal thoughts and actions

The percentage of younger children and teens hospitalized for suicidal thoughts or actions in the United States doubled over nearly a decade, according to new research that will be presented Sunday at the 2017 Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting.

A steady increase in admissions due to suicidality and serious self-harm occurred at 32 children’s hospitals across the nation from 2008 through 2015, the researchers found. The children studied were between the ages of 5 and 17, and although all age groups showed increases, the largest uptick was seen among teen girls.

“We noticed over the last two, three years that an increasing number of our hospital beds are not being used for kids with pneumonia or diabetes; they were being used for kids awaiting placement because they were suicidal,” said Dr. Gregory Plemmons, presenter of the study and an associate professor of pediatrics at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt.

Sensing a trend, Plemmons and his colleagues conducted the research to see what was happening across the country, he said. “And it confirmed what we were feeling: that the rates have doubled over the last decade.”

Plemmons looked at administrative data from 32 children’s hospitals to identify the total number of emergency department and inpatient visits over eight years ending in 2015. He found 118,363 children between the ages of 5 and 17 with a discharge diagnosis of suicidality or serious self-harm.

“We didn’t look at completed suicides, and we didn’t look at actual numbers of total suicides. All we actually could look at were those kids that were admitted to a children’s hospital with a diagnosis of suicide ideation or a suicide attempt,” Plemmons said.

Slightly more than half, 59,631 children, were between the ages 15 and 17, and nearly 37% were between 12 and 14. Children 5 through 11 — a total of 15,050 kids — represented nearly 13% of the total.

Increasing suicide rates among children mirror adult numbers, Plemmons said. Children’s numbers more than doubled over the study period, increasing from 0.67% of children admitted to hospitals in 2008 to 1.79% in 2015. Annually, the 15-to-17 age group averaged an increase of 0.27%, the 12-to-14 age group averaged 0.25%, and the-5 to-11 age group averaged 0.02%.

In 2008, about 60% of all children and teens hospitalized as a result of suicidal thoughts or attempts were girls, and, by 2015, that number had increased to 66%, said Plemmons. While he did not break down age groups, he said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that suicides had tripled in girls, ages 10 through 14, between 1999 and 2014.

Antidepressants are known to increase suicidality in children, teens and adults. These psychiatric drugs are being prescribed to children at an increasing rate:

Could this be a factor in the alarming rise of suicidal acts and thoughts in children?

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