An increasing number of children and adolescents in the United States are struggling with suicidal thoughts as well as attempts. Data from hospitals across the U.S. were examined in a research led by Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. 

The study titled "Hospitalization for Suicide Ideation or Attempt" was published in the journal Pediatrics on May 16.

Rise in suicide-related encounters, particularly among girls

The study looked into data from children's hospitals across the country, analyzing trends in the emergency room and inpatient encounters for suicide ideation and attempts. The patients were between the ages 5 and 17 years while the data spanned the period from 2008 to 2015.

The researchers identified 115,856 suicide-related encounters from 31 children's hospitals. The numbers in 2015 were more than double the numbers from 2008. In total, girls accounted for almost two-thirds of the encounters.

When divided into age groups, the 15-17 age group showed the largest spike (roughly 50 percent of encounters) in the study period, followed by the 12-14 group (37 percent) and finally, the 5-11 group (13 percent).

Seasonal variation noted as visits increased during school months

Lead author Dr. Greg Plemmons is an associate professor of clinical pediatrics at Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt. He stated the findings reflected a trend that he himself had observed: Encounters dipped to lowest levels in the summer but peaked during the fall and spring.

"We noticed that anecdotally here in our own hospital over the last several years, we would have a fairly quiet summer as far as kids coming in for mental health issues, then right about four to six weeks after school started, we became inundated," he said, adding that the figures were consistent across all regions of the country.

This seasonal variation indicated the need to address academic pressure, bullying, and school-related stress factors. 

"To our knowledge, this is one of only a few studies to report higher rates of hospitalization for suicide during the academic school year," Plemmons said.

Identifying risk by talking to young people is highly encouraged

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the third-leading cause of death for those aged between 10 and 24. Social withdrawal, recklessness, loss of interest in daily life, risky behavior, substance abuse, anxiety are signs that someone may be contemplating suicide. 

In addition to academic and peer pressure, Plemmons believed many feel unprepared due to the evolving culture and rise of social media.

"All the factors that we know contribute – such as cyberbullying and regular bullying and traumatic events and the daily news – it really is a different world for kids growing up. This is the first generation that has not known a world without social media," he said.

He encouraged talking to children and teenagers in order to understand and acknowledge the pressures they face. Openly discussing mental health and letting adolescents know that they have a support system can also make a huge difference.

"There's still a huge stigma and anything you can do to destigmatize it helps," he added.

If you or someone you know is at risk, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Crisis Text Line by texting 741741.