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Twice as many children have thoughts about suicide and self-harm as 10 years ago, study says

By Greg Hadley

ghadley@mcclatchy.com

FILE- This Oct. 3, 2010 file photo shows people participating in a candlelight vigil for Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi at Brower Commons on the Rutgers campus in New Brunswick, N.J.
FILE- This Oct. 3, 2010 file photo shows people participating in a candlelight vigil for Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi at Brower Commons on the Rutgers campus in New Brunswick, N.J. AP

“13 Reasons Why,” the wildly popular but controversial Netflix show about teen suicide, has touched off a debate among mental health professionals and advocates about media portrayals of suicide and what might be considered “triggering” for teen viewers.

And a new study shows that those fears are justified. According to data collected from 32 children’s hospitals across the country, the number of children and teenagers with thoughts of suicide and self-harm being admitted to hospitals is more than two times that of 2008.

That study, which will be presented Sunday at the 2017 Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting in San Francisco, found that the rate of patients aged 5 to 17 with suicidial thoughts increased from 0.67 percent to 1.79 percent over the past decade, according to Market Watch.

“We noticed over the last two, three years that an increasing number of our hospital beds are not being used for kids with pneumonia or diabetes; they were being used for kids awaiting placement because they were suicidal," Dr. Gregory Plemmons, one of the study’s co-authors and an associate professor of pediatrics at Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt, told CNN.

As a result, Plemmons decided to analyze the data to see if his observation was true around the country.

“And it confirmed what we were feeling: that the rates have doubled over the last decade,” he said.

While all age groups saw increases in hospitalizations, the biggest spike was among teen girls, the study found. In 2008, 60 percent of all suicidal teens were female, but that number increased to 66 percent in 2015. Meanwhile, the 15-to-17-year-old age group saw an increase of 0.27 percent.

The study also observed a rise and fall in the number of cases depending on the time of year. While the months of June through August saw a decrease, the spring and fall seasons saw an increase. While conventional wisdom might suggest that winter would be the worst time for the depressed and suicidal, the study’s findings are actually in line with previous research, which has found that the spring is the most common time for suicides, per Live Science.

For those suffering from thoughts of suicide or self-harm, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline or YourLifeYourVoice for a child-specific case.

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