Suicide is the eighth leading cause of death for children ages 5 to 11. One study shows emergency rooms have been seeing an increase of children and teens having suicidal thoughts.

“We would classify it as an epidemic, honestly, it’s a mental health crisis,” said Dr Audrey Brewer, Lurie Children’s Pediatrician.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), rates of suicide attempts and deaths among children have increased in the U.S. over the past decade.

The National Instutite of Mental Health said that “despite these rates, very little research has been conducted on the risk factors for suicide in this age group. Understanding the factors that put a child at risk for suicide is a critical step toward preventing such outcomes and protecting youth.”

One team of researchers from Northwestern University and Lurie Children’s Hospital authored a study published in the journal Pediatrics by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

In the study, investigators looked at data from hospitals in Illinois from January 2016 to June 2021. It shows emergency department visits for suicidal thoughts increased 59% in that time period for teens and children as young as 5. But, the spike began to appear before COVID-19 shutdown schools.

“It was a drastic increase in emergency department visits among youth of all age groups back in 2019, so way before the pandemic started,” said Dr. Brewer.

Dr. Audrey Brewer is an attending physician in advanced general pediatrics and primary care at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. She is also a co-author for this study. She said the biggest concern for our youth is suicidal ideation.

“Suicidal ideation is the thoughts of wanting to potentially commit suicide, not actually the act in it but it’s the thoughts of wanting to commit suicide,” she explained.

Researchers noted the culprit for declining mental health in our youth is the growing prevalence of depression, anxiety, and severe mental illness.

In Texas, a report by Annie E. Casey Foundation showed children ages 3 to 17 years old who had or reported having anxiety or depression to a doctor increased 23.4% from 2016 (7.7%) to 2020 (9.5%).

But between the pressures of school, social isolation, social media, politics, family, neglect or abuse, researchers can’t only blame the pandemic as the reason why we are seeing an increase in suicidal thoughts since research has showed concerning trends before then.

“We need to be able to provide more resources for kids in outpatient setting, resources whether it’s in the school system or different community-based organizations, we need to develop more policies to really help and support our kids as well as their families,” added Dr. Brewer.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of self-harm, seek help. The 988 suicide and crisis lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress. You can call them at 988 or chat with them online.