Emergency departments see surge in suspected suicide attempts among adolescent girls

Emergency departments see surge in suspected suicide attempts among adolescent girls
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Data from emergency departments documented a surge in visits for suspected suicide attempts among 12- to 17-year-old girls in early 2021, compared to before the pandemic, according to a study published on Friday. 

The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) research determined that emergency departments reported a mean of 50.6 percent more suspected suicide attempt visits between Feb. 21 and March 20, 2021, compared to the same period in 2019. 

Overall, adolescents had 39 percent more suspected suicide attempt visits in the winter 2021 period compared to 2019, but that increase was largely driven by girls. There was a 3.7 percent rise in these visits for adolescent boys in that period. 

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The study outlines the trends for suspected suicide attempt visits throughout the pandemic, after experts had warned about the mental health effects of the pandemic, including the stay-at-home orders in the spring of 2020.

The CDC through the data determined that suspected suicide attempt visits among adolescents “increased as the pandemic progressed,” with girls mostly contributing to the boosts.

The agency called for more attention to be brought to the issue, especially among adolescent girls, to reduce the risk of suicide. The CDC emphasized that a rise in visits for suspected suicide attempts does not mean there was a surge of suicides in the time period.

Using data from the National Syndromic Surveillance Program (NSSP), researchers analyzed the visits during three periods considered to be “representative of distinct periods throughout the pandemic.”

The time frames — March 29 to April 25 in 2020, July 26 to August 22, 2020 and the winter 2021 period — were compared to the same periods in 2019.

In the spring 2020 period, visits for suspected suicide attempts decreased among all 12- to 25-year-olds, including adolescent girls. But adolescents began to see a rise in emergency visits for suspected suicide attempts by early May.

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Emergency departments during the summer 2020 period saw a 22.3 percent increase in visits among adolescents compared to the 2019 period. Girls, in particular, documented a 26.2 percent rise in suspected suicide attempt visits, while boys saw a 10.8 percent increase from 2019. 

The data for 18- to 25-year-olds showed 16.8 percent and 5.6 percent drops in suspected suicide attempt visits in the spring and summer of 2020, respectively. But the age group did document a 1.7 percent increase in visits during the winter 2021 from 2019. 

The NSSP data includes about 71 percent of the U.S.’s emergency departments across 49 states, excluding Hawaii and Washington, D.C. The definition of suspected suicide attempt in emergency departments sometimes includes visits related to non-suicidal self-harm, the CDC noted.

Previous research had highlighted that emergency departments had reported a 31 percent increase in mental health-related visits among those 12- to 17-years-old last year, compared to 2019.