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ER visits after suicide attempts up among teens, young adults during pandemic

Emergency room visits following suicide attempts increased among teens and young adults during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to new CDC data. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI
Emergency room visits following suicide attempts increased among teens and young adults during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to new CDC data. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

June 11 (UPI) -- Emergency room visits related to suicide attempts among teens and young adults in the United States rose by as much as 40% as the COVID-19 pandemic raged on, according to data released Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Between Feb. 21 and March 20 of this year, ER visits following attempted suicide among girls 12 to 17 were 51% higher compared to the same period in 2019, before the pandemic, and 4% higher for boys, the data showed. For boys and girls combined, the visits were 39% higher.

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Among adults 18 to 25, the visits increased nearly 2% for the same period, with women fueling that increase.

The trend in number of visits for suicide attempts in 2021 continues one seen in 2020 after the start of the pandemic, when attempts among people age 12 to 17 increased 31% over 2019 for the same time frames, the data showed.

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While the CDC cautions that the analysis wasn't designed to assess whether these attempts were caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, or would have happened without it, the agency said the increase in young women going to the ER for this reason is concerning.

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"The findings from this study suggest 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," researchers wrote in the study.

The findings are based on an analysis of emergency room visits related to suicide attempts among teens and young adults across the United States between Jan. 1, 2019 and May 15 of this year.

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"Males are far less likely to attempt suicide than girls or women, but far more likely to complete suicide," Dr. Jeremy Faust, who has researched suicide behaviors, told UPI in a phone interview Friday.

Suicide deaths declined nationally across age groups, earlier studies suggest.

However, there is often a "wide gulf" between suicide attempts "or gestures" and "completed suicides," said Faust, who authored one of the earlier studies but was not part of the new CDC research.

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The rises in reported ER visits recorded by the CDC may be attributable to improvements in efforts to monitor suicide deaths and attempted suicides among teens and young adults, said Faust, who is an emergency medicine physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

Still, if there has been a rise in "suicidal gestures" among young people over the past year, it could be attributable to "our failure to contain the pandemic," he said, while cautioning against reading too much into the numbers at this point.

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