Youth ER Visits for Suicide Attempts Double – Behavioral Health Education in Schools Is One Answer
Teaching youth about depression, suicide, and other mental health challenges facilitates awareness of their own behavioral health. Students who know what these disorders look like and how to respond appropriately to signs and symptoms of them are better able to support their own wellbeing and that of their peers. Now is an ideal time to ensure such a curriculum is available in schools across the country.
Emergency room visits by U.S. children and teens for suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts doubled between 2007 and 2015. An independent study published this week in JAMA Pediatrics looked at existing data from the Centers for Disease Control on emergency department visits – the number of children under age 18 visiting emergency rooms for suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts increased from 580,000 in 2007 to a shocking 1.12 million in 2015. More startling still, Dr. Brett Burstein of Montreal Children’s Hospital – lead author of the study – notes that “we are seeing an acceleration of this issue, and I worry that we have not yet seen the peak.”
Often, the emergency room is the last place a young person struggling with their behavioral health should be. The combination of a national shortage of behavioral healthcare professionals and the fact that most emergency rooms are not equipped or staffed to address these kinds of issues can lead to an individual being kept there for hours, days, or even weeks waiting for an inpatient bed to become available. Moreover, treatment of depression and other behavioral health disorders is often more successful and less disruptive of everyday life when initiated earlier – especially before a crisis like a visit to the emergency room.
While this is certainly a multi-faceted problem that will require a coordinated range of efforts to address, one vitally important component of any such endeavor must be suicide prevention education. Creating awareness in schools of behavioral health issues and the signs and symptoms of suicide can have a tremendous impact on young people and their willingness to seek help. There are easy-to-implement, tested programs, which empower students and school personnel to recognize when they themselves or their peers may be exhibiting warning signs of suicidal behavior and how to get help. Such programs have the potential to drastically reduce suicide attempts and ultimately to reverse this trend of increasing emergency department visits.