The number of U.S. emergency room visits for suspected suicide attempts by teen girls jumped during the COVID-19 pandemic by as much as 51%, according to a report released Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Starting in May 2020, emergency visits for suspected suicide attempts by girls between 12 and 17 years old began to increase and continued to do so through March 2021, the report said. For the period of July 26 through Aug. 22, 2020, the rates were 26.2% higher than during the same period the year before. By the period of Feb. 21 through March 20, 2021, the rates for teen girls showed an increase of 50.6% over the same period in 2019, compared to an increase of 3.7% for teen boys during that time period.
The CDC study looked at emergency room visits for both male and female teens for suspected suicide attempts and self-harm over three distinct periods of the pandemic — spring 2020, summer 2020 and winter 2021 — and compared those rates to the same periods in 2019.
Visits during the spring 2020 period (March 29 through April 25, 2020) decreased for both males and females in the age group, mirroring a decrease in the same for the 18- to 25-year-old age group and corresponding to a decrease in overall U.S. emergency room visits at that early stage of the pandemic. The rates for teens increased in summer 2020, although the increase was largely driven by the rates of visits for teen girls, as the rates for teen boys and young adults remained consistent with the rates shown in 2019, the report said.
The increase in emergency room visits for suicide attempts by teen girls during the pandemic is consistent with previous studies that showed these emergency visits were on the rise for teen girls and were consistently higher for teen girls than for teen boys, according to the CDC.
While the study showed an increase in suicide attempts, it did not show an increase in deaths by suicide, the report said. And while experts had cautioned that conditions during the pandemic could cause an increase in suicide risk factors, this study did not identify any cause in particular that drove the increases seen in emergency visits in the study.
What the study clearly does show, however, is an increased need for teen suicide prevention efforts, both overall and in particular during times of widespread disruption like a pandemic.
Some ways to help prevent suicide in adolescents, teens and young adults, according to the CDC:
- Increase social connections
- Teach coping skills
- Learn the signs of suicide risk and how to respond
- Reduce access to lethal means (like medications and firearms)
If you or someone you know is at risk of suicide please call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text TALK to 741741 or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.