Among children and adolescents age 12 to 17 years, the average weekly number of emergency room visits for suspected suicide attempts was 22.3% higher during the summer of 2020 and 39.1% higher during the winter of 2021 than during the same periods in 2019.
The increase was most evident among young girls.
Between Feb. 21 and March 20, 2021, the number of ER visits for suspected suicide attempts was about 51% higher among girls age 12 to 17 than during the same period in 2019. Among boys age 12 to 17, ER visits for suspected suicide attempts increased 4%, the CDC reports.
"Young persons might represent a group at high risk because they might have been particularly affected by mitigation measures, such as physical distancing (including a lack of connectedness to schools, teachers, and peers); barriers to mental health treatment; increases in substance use; and anxiety about family health and economic problems, which are all risk factors for suicide," wrote the study authors,, led by Ellen Yard, PhD, with the CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.
In addition, the findings from this study suggest there has been "more severe distress among young females than has been identified in previous reports during the pandemic, reinforcing the need for increased attention to, and prevention for, this population," the study authors wrote.
The results were published June 11 in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
The findings are based on data for ER visits for suspected suicide from the National Syndromic Surveillance Program, which includes about 71% of the nation's emergency rooms in 49 states. Data from Hawaii and the District of Columbia is not included.
Earlier data reported by the CDC showed that the proportion of mental health-related ER visits among children and adolescents aged 12 to 17 years increased by 31% during 2020 compared with 2019.
‘Time for Action Is Now’
These new findings underscore the "enormous impact the COVID-19 pandemic is having on our country's overall emotional wellbeing, especially among young people,” the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention (Action Alliance) said in a statement.
"Just as we have taken steps to protect our physical health throughout the pandemic, we must also take steps to protect our mental and emotional health," the group said. .
The data, they say, specifically speak to the importance of improving suicide care both during and after ER visits by scaling up the adoption of best practices.
"These and other evidence-based best practices must be adopted by health care systems nationwide to ensure safe, effective suicide care for all," the group said.
"However, health care systems cannot address this issue alone. Suicide is a complex public health issue that also requires a comprehensive, community-based approach to addressing it. We must ensure suicide prevention is infused into a variety of community-based settings ― such as schools, workplaces, and places of worship ― to ensure people are connected with prevention activities and resources before a crisis occurs," the group added.
It also highlights the crucial role of social connectedness in preventing suicide.
"Research indicates that a sense of belonging and social connectedness improves physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. Everyone can play a role in being there for each other and helping to build resiliency. Having real, honest conversations about our own mental health opens the door for connection and social support," they wrote.
The group called for making suicide preventing "a national priority by becoming engaged in the issue and bringing resources to bear.”
“The time for action is now,” they concluded