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Increase in child suicide attempts worries Connecticut psychiatrists

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Experts encourage parents to monitor their kids' behavior for changes in their behavior, including appetite, friendships and school performance.

A note to readers: This story mentions suicide. If you or someone you know needs help, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (en Español: 1-888-628-9454; deaf and hard of hearing: 1-800-799-4889) or the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.

A recent study from the University of Virginia School of Medicine found that suicide attempts by 6- to 19-year-olds reported to U.S. poison centers rose 27% nationally between 2015 and 2020. Researchers analyzed more than 514,000 pediatric suspected suicides, with the largest rate increase occurring in children between 10 and 12.

In Connecticut, when a universal screening program was launched two and a half years ago at the ER in Connecticut Children’s, 16% of children screened positive for risk of suicide, said Dr. Steven Rogers, attending physician and behavioral health and psychiatric coordinator at Connecticut Children’s emergency department.

“In the past six to seven months, we’ve seen rates closer to 20%, and that’s alarming,” Rogers said.

He said the ER sees up to 15 patients a day experiencing a mental health crisis. And patterns are starting to emerge.

"It’s really important for parents that if they have a child struggling or in crisis... that they make their homes safer for that child.”
Dr. Steven Rogers, psychiatric coordinator at Connecticut Children’s

“A significant number of Latina females were screening positive compared to other race and ethnicities,” Rogers said. “We’re not sure what to make of it at this point. The data needs to be analyzed further.”

The University of Virginia study found that nationally, young people most commonly ingested over-the-counter medication. That’s consistent with what Connecticut doctors are seeing.

“It’s really important for parents that if they have a child struggling or in crisis, and may be at risk for suicide, that they make their homes safer for that child," Rogers said. "That includes locking up both over-the-counter and prescription medications.”

Emergency physicians at the ER at Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital are seeing a 30% increase in children attempting suicide since the onset of the pandemic.

Dr. Yann Poncin, medical director of outpatient clinical services for the Yale Child Study Center, says the capacity at Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital ER is 25 medical beds.

“We’ve had 63 kids in the ER in just the last week or two, and of those 63, a good third of the kids may be in for psychiatric reasons,” Poncin said.

It’s important that parents monitor their kids’ behavior, he said.

“Change in appetite, change in friendships, change in grades,” Poncin said. “I think parents must have some awareness of what their children are doing on social media.”

Given the long wait times to see psychiatrists, Poncin advised parents to contact their pediatrician soon if they think their child is struggling.

Resources:

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Connecticut, call 2-1-1 for a child in crisis. The teen crisis text line is 741741.

Sujata Srinivasan is a Senior Producer for 'Where We Live,' the flagship news-based, call-in talk show from Connecticut Public Radio, featuring deep dives at the intersection of data-driven narrative and investigative long-form journalism. She's also an editor for the Connecticut Public newsroom.
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