National study shows spike in children going to ER for suicidal thoughts, attempts

On Monday April 8th American Medical Association’s pediatrics journal, JAMA Pediatrics released a study that shows the number of kids who went to the ER for suicidal thoughts or attempts doubled between 2007 and 2015. Between 300 hospitals in 2007 there were 580,000 visits and in 2015 that number jumped to 1.12 million.

Martha Barge, a mental health specialist at Pivotal Moments Counseling and Addiction Services in Opelousas says, “They just think if they take their lives it’s okay and they’ll end their problems. But they don’t realize they are creating a whole new set of problems.”

The numbers may sound scary, but in Acadiana both Pivotal Moments and Vermilion Behavior Health Systems say the need for children’s mental health is growing.

Katie Hebert is the director of clinical services at Vermilion Behavior Health Systems. She says, “We increased our beds we had for kids for years to 32 beds in house which is a drastic increase in population but the community was going through more children in need.”

There are a couple of factors local mental health professionals believe the number is rising. For starters, mental health awareness is getting better.

UL Lafayette assistant professor of Psycology, Valanne L. MacGyvers, PhD. says, “My first reaction was thank goodness they’re going to the ER if they’re going to the ER and we’re identifying them as at risk we can intervene and save their lives.”

Another factor may be the increase of cyber bullying.

The study reveals the average age of visitors is 13. Dr. MacGyvers says the normal brain development of a child can also effect a child and their emotions. “The kids are having really big feelings and they don’t have the reasonable mental abilities to sort of rationalize those big feelings and to be able to handle them.”

Their suggestion for parents is to pay attention to a sudden change in your child’s behavior and having a simple conversation.

While some are hesitant to bring up suicide because it may give their child bad ideas Dr. MacGyvers says most likely your child, even at a young age, already knows what suicide is. She suggests asking them questions, “What was a good thing that happened today? What was a bad thing that happened today and what do you hope for tomorrow? Sometimes that opens the door for kids to say I hope so and so didn’t treat me bad again tomorrow.”

Click here for national suicide risk screening questions.

If you or anyone you know is dealing with suicidal thoughts contact the 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Line at 1-800-273-8255.