Children’s suicide attempts have increased during COVID-19 pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to significant changes in the dynamics of children’s suicide attempts, according to results of a cross-sectional study published in JAMA Network Open.
“Recent studies have reported a deterioration in children’s mental health since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, with an increase in anxiety and mood disorders,” Anthony Cousien, PhD, of the department of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of Paris in France, and colleagues wrote. “Rates of suicide ideation and suicide attempts among children were also higher when COVID-19–related stressors were heightened in 2020. We aimed to better assess temporal trends in suicide attempts among children while adjusting for annual and seasonal fluctuations.”
The researchers analyzed data of 830 children aged 15 years or younger (mean age, 13.5 years; 1:4 ratio of boys to girls) with suicide attempt history who were admitted to the pediatric ED of a single hospital between January 2010 and April 2021. They defined suicide attempt as “a nonfatal self-directed potentially injurious behavior with any intent to die as a result of the behavior.” Cousien and colleagues did not include deaths by suicide in the analysis, since real-time data were unavailable.
Results of a deseasonalized time series showed a decrease of 36% in the number of children’s suicide attempts from 12.2 at the lowest level in 2019 to 7.8 during the first lockdown period between March 2020 and April 2020 in France. However, the researchers noted a significant increase in the number of children’s suicide attempts between the lowest and highest levels of 12.2 and 22.5 in 2019 to 38.4 prior to the beginning of the second lockdown initiation in September 2020 and October and 40.5 in early November 2020 and December 2020, for respective increases of 116% and 299%. The significant remainder components the researchers observed after March 2020 suggested this “aberrant dynamic” of suicide attempts was not related to annual seasonality and its trend over the 10-year period.
Cousien and colleagues speculated that children’s specific sensitivity to mitigation measures, adverse effects on family health and economic conditions, increased screen time and social media use or bereavement may have affected this acceleration.
“There is a need for rapid deployment of evidence-based prevention and intervention strategies to address factors influencing suicide attempts among children during and likely after the pandemic,” the researchers wrote.