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Percentage of children and teens hospitalized for suicidal thoughts or actions doubled over the past decade

Peaks can be seen in the fall and the spring, with a lull in the summer, researcher says

CNN  — 

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.”

Peaks in fall and spring

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.