ER Visits for Suspected Suicide Spiked Among Teen Girls During Pandemic

By: - June 14, 2021 12:00 am

Students wait in line to return to in-person learning at a New York City middle school in February. The CDC said in a new report that young people may have been at higher risk of suicide during the pandemic in part because of a lack of connectedness to schools, teachers and peers. Anthony Behar/Sipa USA via The Associated Press

If you or anyone you know is struggling with thoughts of self-harm or suicide, you can get help by calling the confidential National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK.

In the four weeks ending March 20, emergency department visits involving suspected suicide attempts jumped 51% for girls age 12-17 compared with the same period in 2019. For boys, the rate increased by 4%.

That’s according to a new report from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency also reported that one-quarter of young adults age 18–24 said they had experienced suicidal thoughts related to the pandemic last summer.

The difference in suspected suicide rates among adolescent girls and boys, the CDC wrote, is consistent with previous research. But this most recent study suggests “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.”

But the CDC stressed that the increase in emergency room visits related to suicide attempts does not mean that suicide deaths have increased.

Suicide rates for adolescents and young adults started climbing in 2007 after remaining stable for the previous seven years. By 2018, the rate of suicide deaths among young people had jumped 57.4%, with wide variations among states, according to a 2020 report from the CDC. Alaska had the highest suicide rate among people age 10-24 in 2016-2018 and Northeastern states had some of the lowest rates.

The biggest jump in youth and young adult suicide rates from the 2007–2009 period to 2016–2018 was in New Hampshire where the rate more than doubled, followed by Oregon, Georgia, Missouri and Oklahoma. The lowest increase was in Maryland, followed by Mississippi, Florida, Iowa and Arizona.

During the pandemic, the CDC speculated, young people may have been at higher risk of suicide because of physical distancing and lack of connectedness to schools, teachers and peers, combined with barriers to mental health treatment, increases in substance use, and anxiety about family health and economic problems, all of which may have had a more profound effect on young people compared to older adults.

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Christine Vestal

Christine Vestal covers mental health and drug addiction for Stateline. Previously, she covered health care for McGraw-Hill and the Financial Times.