Study: Proportion of adolescent suicides rose early in COVID-19 pandemic

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Study: Proportion of adolescent suicides rose early in COVID-19 pandemic

A new study reports a rise in adolescent suicide deaths during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo by Ryan McGuire/Pixabay

Adolescents accounted for a higher proportion of suicides in the United States during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic than in the years before the global crisis, a study published Monday found.

In 14 states, the percentage of deaths due to suicide that involved adolescents rose by about 10% in 2020 compared with 2015 through 2019, data published Monday by JAMA Pediatrics showed.

People ages 10 to 19 years in the states included in the analysis accounted for nearly 7% of suicide deaths nationally in 2020, up from an average of just under 6% from 2015 through 2019, the researchers said.

Five of the states included in the analysis — Georgia, Indiana, New Jersey, Oklahoma and Virginia — saw an increase in number of adolescent suicides in 2020 over the previous five-year period, according to the researchers.

Only one of the included states, Montana, experienced a decrease in both the absolute count and proportion of adolescent suicide deaths during the first year of the pandemic, while Alaska saw a reduction in the proportion of deaths by suicide that involved adolescents, they said.

“The reason the proportion of suicides that occurred among adolescents increased is because adults experienced fewer suicides during the first year of the pandemic — but adolescents weren’t so lucky,” Maimuna Majumder, co-author of the study, told UPI in an email.

“We want to get to a place where we’re seeing decreases in adolescent suicides, too, which means prioritizing and destigmatizing mental health care for kids,” said Majumder, a research associate at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital.

Deaths by suicide across the country declined in 2020, the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

However, an increase occurred in drug overdose deaths ruled suicides nationally among teens and young adults as well as seniors, research shows.

The CDC also warned of a mental health “crisis” among teens during the pandemic, while a separate study revealed a rise in teen social media posts about self-harm as the virus spread and temporarily closed many schools and disrupted social activities.

For this study, Majumder and her colleagues analyzed data on suicide deaths from Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Indiana, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, Vermont and Virginia.

They compared deaths by suicide among different age groups in 2020 with those of a five-year period before the pandemic.

Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Virginia saw a higher number of suicide deaths among adolescents ages 10 to 19 years in 2020 compared with the previous five-year period, the data showed.

In Arkansas, California, Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Vermont and Virginia, people in this age group accounted for a higher percentage of suicide deaths in 2020 than they had during the pre-pandemic years, the researchers said.

Adolescents ages 10 to 19 years made up fewer than 8% of all suicide deaths in each of the states included in the analysis, except for Alaska, Indiana and Oklahoma, they said.

“Without question, the pandemic has been a mass casualty event, and it’s difficult to overstate the impact that this might be having on kids,” Majumder said.

“Our findings suggest that reallocation of resources toward adolescent mental health, emergency care and psychiatric services may be warranted — and that some states may need more help than others.”

If you or someone you know is suicidal, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

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