ER visits for 10- to 17-year-olds related to suicidal ideation increased during pandemic, health department study finds

photo by: Screenshot of Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health Board meeting

During the Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health Board's Monday, July 18, 2022 meeting, board members heard a presentation from Aihua Zhu, a senior analyst with the health department. Zhu's study found children ages 10 to 17 had a higher proportion of emergency department visits due to suicidal ideation during the height of the pandemic.

The proportion of emergency department visits due to suicidal ideation among children ages 10 to 17 increased from 2019 to 2020, according to a Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health report.

Aihua Zhu, a senior analyst with the health department, presented the key findings of that report during the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Board’s meeting Monday night. Zhu said her study finds that during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, a 27% reduction in overall emergency department visits for that age group was disproportionate compared to just a 9% reduction in visits related to suicidal ideation.

The study looked at children in that age range from Douglas County that had been admitted and treated for suicidal ideation both immediately prior to and during the pandemic. The age group carried the highest proportion of visits for that reason from 2018 to 2021. The proportion also increased from 8.1% of visits in 2019 to 10.1% of visits in 2020, Zhu said, while the proportion of suicidal ideation-related visits for adults 18 and older stayed relatively constant.

“This suggests that youth age 10 to 17 years old are more vulnerable during a public health emergency like the COVID pandemic,” Zhu said.

The pandemic also seemed to have an especially outsized impact on children in the middle school age range of 11 to 13 years old, Zhu said. That group saw a 42% increase in the number of visits related to suicidal ideation in 2020.

Board president Rev. Verdell Taylor asked Zhu if she thought the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s recent switch to the 988 dialing code might make an impact on the issue, and she said she thought so.

“I feel it will be very helpful,” Zhu said. “It’s a big step in trying to help the community — and also nationwide — not only parents, but schools (and) communities to work together on youth suicide prevention.”


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