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Cook Children's Reports Rise In Child Suicide Attempts, Part Of Growing Child Mental Health Crisis

A young girl stares out the window of her hospital room
Christophe Ena
/
Associated Press
A young girl looks out the window of her room in the pediatric unit of the Robert Debre hospital in France. A year into the coronavirus pandemic, increasing numbers of children are coming apart at the seams, their mental health shredded by the traumas of deaths, sickness and job losses in their families, the disruptions of lockdowns and curfews, and a deluge of anxieties poisoning their fragile young minds.

KERA's Justin Martin spoke with Dr. Kia Carter, the co-medical director of psychiatry at Cook Children's Medical Center, about the global rise in suicide and self-harm with teenagers and children.

Amid the pandemic, there’s been an increase in children who’ve had suicidal thoughts or who have attempted suicide.

Cook Children’s Medical Center says 2020 was the first year ever that suicide was the leading cause of traumatic death at the Fort Worth hospital. More children died by suicide than from car wrecks or child abuse.

NPR reported in January on how the pandemic's worsening the nationwide child mental health crisis.

According to their report, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that, from April to October 2020, hospitals across the U.S. saw a 24% increase in the proportion of mental health emergency visits for children ages 5 to 11, and a 31% increase for children ages 12 to 17.

Dr. Kia Carter is co-medical director of psychiatry at Cook Children’s Medical Center. She talked with KERA's Justin Martin.

On What's Behind The Rise In Mental Health Issues:

I would say definitely the pandemic and isolation has played a role within the last year.

But we don't want to forget that the numbers of suicide attempts from our kids have been rising over the last five years. We started tracking them at Cook Children's for the last five years, and we've continually seen this increase as well as the CDC data also relates to this.

They've shown that the kind of national numbers for kids dying by suicide has risen from the third leading cause starting in 2018 to the second leading cause now.

On How Children And Teens Are Doing In North Texas:

Normally in the spring we see a rise in our youth seeking out mental health services, whether it's suicide attempts, depression, anxiety, as you mentioned earlier, but this is the highest that we've seen.

Actually we're seeing the highest number of kids into our ER for mental health assessments. We're seeing record numbers of our kids needing to be medically cleared before they're transferred out to other psychiatric facilities, or inpatient unit.

So we've seen this number double in the last year, which definitely relates back to the pandemic. But this has been an ongoing issue for multiple years.

On Children Of Color And LGBTQ Teens:

We actually have not seen this enormous increase in kids of color. We don't see that necessarily changing in the last year, especially with all the movements with Black lives matter and things like that.

We haven't seen this increased number, but for our LGBTQ kids, we have. So we definitely are seeing more of these kids struggle really related more to some, either bullying where they're not accepted in their educational surrounding or at home.

A lot of kids feel like they can't be who they need to be, whether it's gender identity or sexual identity, where they're uncomfortable telling their parents, they feel uncomfortable in their body. When kids feel that way, it's called gender dysphoria basically where they're struggling to feel a sense of normalcy.

So then they become depressed and overwhelmed. And we're actually seeing a rise in that population significantly.

Dr. Kia Carter is co-medical director of psychiatry at Cook Children’s Medical Center.

Interview highlights were lightly edited for clarity.

Got a tip? Email Justin Martin at Jmartin@kera.org. You can follow Justin on Twitter @MisterJMart.

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