A new study released Wednesday finds that more kids are attempting or considering suicide. The study analyzed hospital data to determine how many suicide attempts among children and young adults there have been in the past decade. Their findings were shocking.
Dr. Gregory Plemmons of Vanderbilt University explained, “When we looked at hospitalizations for suicidal ideation and suicidal encounters over the last decade, essentially 2008 to 2015, we found that the rates doubled among children that were hospitalized for suicidal thoughts or activity.”
Not only has the rate of suicide attempts among kids skyrocketed, the study found some other disturbing details. Children as young as 5 years old had been hospitalized for trying to commit suicide or thinking about suicide. Half of the hospitilization involved teenages aged 15-17, kids 12-13 made up 37%, and 13% of the suicide related hospitalizations were children aged 5-11.
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Girls were at a much higher risk for attempting suicide. The study found two-thirds of the cases were girls, but were unable to pinpoint the reason.
Why Are Suicide Attempts Increasing?
The researchers ultimately did not form a concrete conclusion as to why suicide attempts are increasing, but their findings did reveal some clues.
For one, the researchers found the rate of suicide attempts decreased during the summer months, when kids are not in school.
“On average, during the eight years included in the study, only 18.5 percent of total annual suicide ideation and suicide attempt encounters occurred during summer months,” the researcher team wrote. “Peaks were highest in fall and spring. October accounted for nearly twice as many encounters as reported in July.”
This would indicate that there is something amiss in the American education system if it has pushed students towards depression and suicide. Bullying from students and even teachers may be part of the reason kids are more depressed during the school year.
Kids also seem to be more stressed about school than ever. Each passing year sees students with more homework and more pressures to excel. Public class rankings, standardized testing, and the pressures to get into a top college appear to be pushing kids over the edge towards anxiety and depression.
Journalist Lucy Clark wrote a book about the failures of the school system after seeing her own daughter struggle. She explains, “There is too much focus on academic outcomes and a very narrow view of success with a one-size-fits-all approach that negates individuality.
“There is too much testing and too much competition, and too much comparison between kids.
“The whole system is geared towards achieving better outcomes rather than getting kids to love learning, and consequently there is a hierarchy of pressure, with kids right at the bottom.”
With athletic programs being cut, theatre departments losing funding, and recess time being whittled away, kids are also more sedentary than ever. Research shows a sedentary lifestyle may contribute to depression.
Schools do not seem to be prepared for the mental health epidemic affecting teens. While depression and suicide attempts are clearly increasing, there is a nationwide shortage of school psychologists and teachers receive little to no training in identifying and addressing students that may be suffering from depression.
Emet Oden, a teen who attempted suicide and now works in suicide prevention, claims he dropped hints to teachers about his depression, but none responded to the clues or took action.
Is Social Media the Problem?
“I don’t have any one magic answer that explains why we’re seeing this,” Dr. Plemmons said. “We know that anxiety and depression are increasing in young adults as well as adults. I think some people have theorized it’s social media maybe playing a role, that kids don’t feel as connected as they used to be.”
Study after study has found social media use can be linked to depression and anxiety. Researchers believe digital addiction increases feelings of loneliness, as well as anxiety and depression. Journalist Sebastian Junger has studied depression extensively and found the modern American lifestyle seems to breed depression because of the separation and alienation from others. It seems social media is, in part, to blame.
Plemmons added, “Studies show that if someone is spending an inordinate amount of time on electronics or screen time, that does seem to be associated with increased rates of depression so paying attention to how much time I think your kids are utilizing social media, or computers, and things like that, I think is important too.”
But feelings of alienation aren’t the only mental health challenge presented by social media. A study released last month found that kids were more than twice as likely to attempt or think about suicide if they had experienced cyberbullying. Another study found that kids who are bullied are more than twice as likely to develop depression later on.
Before social media, children could leave bullying behind when they left school. Now, thanks to smartphones and social media, their bullies can essentially follow them around and are always in their pockets.
What’s the Answer?
To decrease suicide risks in children and young adults, Plemmons recommends speaking about suicide directly with anyone you feel might be at risk. He also suggests discussing failure and pressures with young adults. “Talking to your kids about it’s OK to be mediocre, it’s OK to fail once in a while, and share experiences of your own feelings,” he said.
Additionally, Plemmons recommends that parents should limit screen time for kids.
Many studies have found that physical activity may be one answer. One study found that exercise decreases suicide attempts among bullied teens by 23%. Whether you’re concerned about your child’s mental health or not, encourage them to get outside, play team sports, or take a yoga class.
Mindfulness and yoga may also be important tools in decreasing the high suicide rates. Introducing meditation, yoga, and other mindfulness practices into the school day has shown to reduce anxiety, depression, and classroom conflict, while fostering better academic outcomes and social bonds between students. There are multiple non-profit organizations in all 50 states and in 100 countries training schools to implement mindfulness activities for students.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide please call the National Suicide Prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255.