Suicide Attempts Up Among Adolescents During COVID-19

Suspected suicide attempts have increased more among females.

A new report released by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows mental health-related emergency department visits for adolescents has increased by 31% in 2020 when compared to 2019, beginning in May.

A team, led by Ellen Yard, PhD, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, CDC, used data from the National Syndromic Surveillance Program (NSSP) to identify suicide trends during the COVID-19 pandemic. A suspect suicide visit was identified based on a combination of chief complaint terms and administrative discharge diagnosis codes and included visits for suicide attempts and some nonsuicidal self-harm visits.

NSSP data represents approximately 71% of the nation’s emergency departments in 49 states (all except Hawaii) and the District of Columbia.

The CDC examined suicide trends for individuals between 12-25 years old between January 1, 2019–May 15, 2021 by sex, and at 3 distinct phases of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This increase was especially true for female adolescents between 12-17 years old. Between February 21 and March 20, 2021, suspected suicide attempt emergency department visits were 50.6% higher in females between 12-17 years old when compared to the same time period in 2019.

In June 2020, a survey shows 25% of adults between 18-24 years old reported experiencing suicidal ideation related to the pandemic in the previous 30 days.

However, more recent patterns of emergency department visits for suspected suicide attempts among young adults is less clear.

Suicide attempt emergency department visits also increased in males between 12-17 years old, but only by 3.7%.

“Compared with the corresponding period in 2019, persons aged 12–25 years made fewer ED visits for suspected suicide attempts during March 29–April 25, 2020,” the authors wrote. “However, by early May 2020, ED visit counts for suspected suicide attempts began increasing among adolescents aged 12–17 years, especially among girls.”

However, the mean weekly ED visit counts for suspected suicide attempts was 50.6% higher among girls aged 12–17 years between February 21–March 20, 2021 compared to 2019.

“Suicide prevention measures focused on young persons call for a comprehensive approach, that is adapted during times of infrastructure disruption, involving multisectoral partnerships (e.g., public health, mental health, schools, and families) and implementation of evidence-based strategies that address the range of factors influencing suicide risk,” the authors wrote.

In addition, 41% of those surveyed reported more than 1 visit.

Earlier this year, investigators observed little change in suicide rates occurring around the world in the early months of COVID-19 compared to before the pandemic, according to data collected from 16 high-income and 5 upper-middle-income countries.

Investigators found no increase in suicide rates in the early months of the pandemic for any country included. In fact, evidence in the data showed a decrease in suicide in 12 areas, compared to the expected numbers from previous years trends.

The study did not include low or lower-middle income countries that account for 46% of the world’s suicides.