Suicide attempts by children have spiked during the pandemic, especially among girls

Suicide attempts by children have spiked during the pandemic, especially among girls

Five years ago, if a child younger than 13 arrived at Maine Medical Center for treatment following a suicide attempt, it was rare and notable.

It’s no longer rare.

If your life or someone else’s life is in immediate danger, dial 911.

For immediate assistance during a mental health crisis, call or text the Maine 24-Hour Crisis Hotline at 888-568-1112.

For any other support or referrals, call the NAMI Maine Help Line at 800-464-5767 or email helpline@namimaine.org.

National resources are also available. The number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. You can also contact the National Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.

Warning signs of teen suicide might include:

  • Talking about suicide, including making statements like “I’m going to kill myself” or “I won’t be a problem for you much longer”
  • Withdrawing from social contact
  • Having mood swings
  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs
  • Feeling trapped, hopeless or helpless about a situation
  • Changing normal routine, including eating or sleeping patterns
  • Doing risky or self-destructive things
  • Giving away belongings when there is no other logical explanation for why this is being done
  • Developing personality changes or being severely anxious or agitated when experiencing some warning signs listed above

What to do if you suspect your teen is suicidal:

If you suspect your teen might be thinking about suicide, talk to them immediately. Don’t be afraid to use the word “suicide.” Talking about suicide won’t plant ideas in their head.

Ask your teen about their feelings and listen. Don’t dismiss their problems.

Seek medical help for your teen and follow through with the treatment plan.

“We’re seeing more of them and they’re younger. We have seen as young as 7 to 9 years old, which we never saw,” said Dr. Robyn Ostrander, division director of child and adolescent psychiatry. “It’s hard to wrap your head around that a child of that age would even conceive of suicide or know what it is, but it happens.”

In Maine and across the country, the number of adolescents who attempt suicide has risen dramatically, setting off alarm bells for mental health and suicide prevention experts who say more focus needs to be placed on talking about it and providing access to mental health services.

The increase is being driven largely by girls, who experts say experience depression at higher rates than boys and may be more likely to seek help for self-inflicted injuries.

Nationwide, emergency room visits following suicide attempts by girls age 12 to 17 spiked in 2020 and the first months of 2021. The number of girls who went to the hospital after a suspected suicide attempt rose 51 percent from March 2019 to March 2021, according to a recent analysis by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The increase among boys was 3.7 percent.

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