The number of children who visited an emergency room due to suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts nearly doubled in the past 10 years.
Researchers reported that between 2007 and 2015, the annual visits among children from ages 5 to 18 years increased from 580,000 to 1.12 million. Moreover, they warned that nearly half of the visits were children between the ages of 5 and 11.
"These numbers are very alarming," stated Brett Burstein, a physician at the Montreal Children's Hospital of the McGill University Health Center and an author of the study, to The Huffington Post. "Not only was there doubling over the study period; we also found in this broad, nationally representative sample that there is a high proportion — more than had been previously identified — that are presenting at a very young age group."
A Worrying Trend
The study published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics used publicly available data from the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey which is administered by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The study found that the average age of children who were diagnosed with suicidal ideation or suicide attempt was 13. Meanwhile, 43 percent of the visits were children from ages 5 to 11.
The findings are alarming, but it does not surprise child psychiatrists. The rate of depression and suicide among the younger population has been increasing over the years. In fact, the National Institute has identified suicide as a major public health concern.
Leading Cause Of Death
In the United States, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death. It is the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34 years old and fourth among individuals between the ages of 34 and 54.
The study, however, has its own limitations. The researchers admitted that the data might have incorrectly included cases of self-harm as a suicide attempt. Because of the nature of the data, the study also could not identify the common causes of suicidal ideation and suicide attempts.
Gene Beresin, executive director of The Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds in Massachusetts and a professor of psychiatry in Harvard Medical School, suggested that one reason for the increase in suicidal behavior could be stress.
"Kids are feeling more pressure to achieve, more pressure in school, and are more worried about making a living than in previous years," he told CNN. Another possible reason he identified is social media and cyberbullying.
Parents getting better at recognizing the signs of depression and getting their children the help they needed is also a possible contributor to the increase.