Overall, 115,856 suicide-related encounters were included in the study, nearly two-thirds of which involved girls. Hospitalization rates increased from 2008 to 2015 across all age groups, with the highest increases among 15- to 17-year- olds, followed by 12- to 14-year-olds. Rates increased for both boys and girls, but the spike was higher in girls.
“We were seeing more kids coming in and being admitted with these issues, and we decided to look at what was going on nationwide,” Dr. Plemmons told ishonest. “We were a little surprised to see that this is not just a local trend, but it’s something that’s happening all over the country.”
This study did not look at actual suicide rates among youth, but other research has suggested that they have also increased over a similar time period. That suggests that the rise in hospitalizations isn't simply due to more children seeking help, say the researchers, nor increased awareness of parents and teachers.
In fact, suicide is the third leading cause of death among adolescents in the United States, behind motor vehicle accidents and homicides, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among 10- to 14-year-olds, it’s now tied for first.
It can be difficult to know the difference between normal adolescent angst and clinical depression, Dr. Plemmons admits. “But knowing your child well, and talking with him or her on a regular basis, can help,” he says.
Parents should also be on the lookout for changes in a child’s sleep schedule, appetite, or hobbies. “If they lose interest in things they used to do, if they’re becoming withdrawn or there’s an increasing amount of screentime, those can be red flags,” Dr. Plemmons says.
And if a child tells you that he or she has thought about suicide, “don’t discount or minimize that,” Dr. Plemmons adds. “And know where you can go to potentially seek help, like from a family doctor or a pediatrician.”
The publication of Dr. Plemmons’ study comes just ahead of this weekend’s release of the second season of 13 Reasons Why, a Netflix series that depicts the suicide of a fictional teenager and the cassette tapes she’s left behind for her friends and family. While some experts say that the show can be a good conversation starter for families, many have serious concerns with it, as well.
After the first season of 13 Reasons Why was released, Google reported a 26% uptick in searches for “how to commit suicide.” “We know there is a contagious effect, and we saw that here, anecdotally, more kids were thinking about it,” says Dr. Plemmons, who did not watch the show’s entire first season but did read the book it was based on.
“I do feel like [the show] sort of glamorized suicide, and it’s easy to forget that this main character is actually dead,” he says. “I’m hoping in the second season they can show the ripple effect of one person’s suicide that we can see on others around them.”
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