Hospital visits for suspected suicide attempts jump in 2021 — mostly in teen girls

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Shortly after the pandemic began, when businesses and schools first closed and social lives turned upside down, emergency department visits for suspected suicide attempts started to increase among teens between 12 and 17 years old.

As winter approached, visits skyrocketed among girls in particular.

During February and March 2021, hospital visits for suspected suicide attempts, including those for actual attempts as well as nonsuicidal self-harm injuries, jumped 51% compared to the same period in 2019, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report published Friday.

Meanwhile, suspected suicide attempt emergency department visits from teen boys increased 3.7% in that time.

The gender differences are consistent with past research that has shown teen girls are more likely to self-report suicide attempts than teen boys, the researchers said, and generally visit emergency departments for such attempts at higher rates.

“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,” the researchers said.

The pandemic introduced unique stressors that could have put many young people at higher risk of suicide attempts, the CDC said, including physical distancing from friends and family, remote learning, barriers to mental health treatment, increases in substance use, and anxiety about the health and economic status of their loved ones.

Emergency department visits for mental health problems and suspected child abuse also increased in 2020 compared to the previous year, according to the report, which could have contributed to the jump in suspected suicide attempts among teen girls this winter.

The researchers note, however, that the rise in suspected suicide attempts “does not mean that suicide deaths have increased.”