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Threat of Child Suicide Is Highest During the School Year, Study Finds

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More school-age children are either considering or attempting suicide, according to a study published in the medical journal Pediatrics—and the findings suggest that youth may face increased stress and mental health challenges when classes are in session.

The study, "Hospitalization for Suicide Ideation or Attempt," looked at trends in emergency room and inpatient encounters for suicide-related diagnoses in children ages 5 to 17 at 31 children's hospitals from 2008 to 2015.

Using a month-by-month analysis of the data, researchers from Vanderbilt University found seasonal trends: suicide-related diagnoses peaked during the fall and spring, and dropped sharply in the summer. Previous research has found that adult suicide is most likely to occur during summer months.

"Recent media attention has been focused on how schools and social media impact behavior and the role social contagion may play," the researchers wrote. "With our findings, we underscore the need for future work to explore the relationship between school and suicidal [thoughts], recognizing that the role of academics is a complex one."

In 2015, the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force recommended depression screenings for teens, but did not take a strong stance on similar screenings for younger children.

Over the course of the study period, the proportion of emergency room and hospital encounters for suicide-related diagnoses more than doubled. The 31 children's hospitals reported 35,000 suicide-related diagnoses between 2008 and 2011. From 2012 to 2015, the number increased to roughly 80,000.

That rate of increase was highest among adolescent girls. Overall, girls accounted for more than two-thirds of hospital encounters. The researchers wrote that the findings have "important implications for exploring age- and sex-specific approaches to suicide screening and prevention interventions."

While increases were seen across all age groups, they were highest among teens ages 15 to17, followed by ages 12 to 14.

Just over half of the encounters were children ages 15-17; another 37 percent were children ages 12-14; and roughly 13 percent were elementary-level children, ranging from ages 5 to11. 

The Vanderbilt researchers used data from the Pediatric Health Information System to identify emergency department encounters, observation stays, and inpatient hospitalizations tied to suicide-related diagnoses.

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