If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Researchers for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found the rate at which girls ages 12 through 17, in particular, were visiting the emergency department (ED) for suicide attempts between February and March of 2021 increased nearly 51% compared to the same period in 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools and businesses to close their doors.
Researchers also noted a nearly 4% increase in ED visits for suspected suicide attempts among boys ages 12 through 17 over the same time period.
While the study published Friday does not examine causes of suspected increased suicide attempts, it notes that "some researchers have cautioned about a potential increase in suicides during the COVID-19 pandemic on account of increases in suicide risk factors."
Risk factors include a "lack of connectedness to schools, teachers and peers" due to physical distancing measures, "barriers to health treatment," "increases in substance abuse" and anxiety related to "family health and economic problems."
ED visits for "mental health concerns and suspected child abuse," which are also risk factors for suicide, "also increased in 2020 compared with 2019 (5), potentially contributing to increases in suspected suicide attempts," researchers wrote. General mental-health-related ED visits among teens ages 12 through 17 increased 31% in 2020 compared to 2019.
Spending time at home, too, may have put children at higher risk of experiencing suicidal thoughts and behaviors, according to the study.
For a brief period between March and April of 2020, when many states implemented an initial wave of lockdown orders, ED visits for suspected suicide attempts among individuals ages 12 through 25 fell but then began to rise again during the summer of 2020. Between July and August of 2020, suspected suicide attempts were up more than 26% among girls ages 12 through 17, CDC researchers found.
Other experts have suggested the trend is not unique to U.S. children.
Doctors elsewhere have reported children — some as young as 8 — deliberately running into traffic, overdosing on pills and otherwise self-harming. In Japan, child and adolescent suicides hit record levels in 2020, according to the Education Ministry.
Pediatric psychiatrists say they're also seeing children with coronavirus-related phobias, tics and eating disorders, obsessing about infection, scrubbing their hands raw, covering their bodies with disinfectant gel and terrified of getting sick from food.
Also increasingly common, doctors say, are children suffering panic attacks, heart palpitations and other symptoms of mental anguish, as well as chronic addictions to mobile devices and computer screens that have become their sitters, teachers and entertainers during lockdowns, curfews and school closures.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.