Report on kids’ suicidal thoughts included error; stats show severity of issue

Data from local hospitals, national studies show significant impact of pandemic on children’s mental health

Recent Montgomery County Prevention Coalition data on the rate of suicidal thoughts in local teens appears to have been reported in error, a Dayton Daily News review revealed. But that review also found additional evidence of increasing behavioral health issues in kids.

The Montgomery County Prevention Coalition reported last week that 60% of Montgomery County kids in grades seven through 12 had considered suicide. After questions from this newspaper about the source of the data, the coalition said they meant to report a different statistic.

“The Montgomery County Prevention Coalition relies on data provided to us by our partners,” said Colleen Oakes, the group’s manager. “The statistic should read there was a 51% increase in emergency department visits for suicide attempts in adolescent girls from 2019-2021.”

This data was reported by Dayton Children’s Hospital, and it was a national statistic sourced from the Centers for Disease Control’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report published June 18, 2021.

Emergency department visits for suspected suicide attempts began to increase among adolescents aged 12–17 years, especially girls, in May 2020. From February 2021 through March 20, 2021, suspected suicide attempt emergency department visits were 50.6% higher among girls aged 12–17 than during the same period in 2019, according to the CDC. Among boys aged 12–17, suspected suicide attempt ED visits increased 3.7%.

“The data was reported incorrectly in the (Montgomery County Prevention Coalition) 2022 Annual Report. The original data is reliable and accurate,” Oakes said. “The impact of the pandemic on our children’s mental health continues to be a top concern.”

Locally, approximately 17% of high school and 19% of middle school students in Clark County made a plan to attempt suicide, according to the 2021 Youth Risk Behavioral Survey conducted by the Mental Health Recovery Board of Clark County.

Additional local data reported by Dayton Children’s Hospital also showed a need for behavioral health services continuing to grow. Those reports include:

  • Over 7,000 children and teens came to the main emergency and crisis center at Dayton Children’s Hospital for mental health in 2022.
  • The number one reason for admission in 2022 was suicidal ideation.
  • 178 kids in February 2022 stayed in a regular medical room because there were no mental health beds available.
  • 1,000 kids were admitted for self harm or depression in 2021.

Data collected by the CDC prior to the pandemic showed one in three high school-aged kids in Ohio (33%) felt persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness in 2019, but it was still less than the national average (36.7%).

That same CDC Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System data from 2019 said 15.6% of high school kids in Ohio “seriously considered” attempting suicide, 10.5% made a plan about how they would attempt it, 6.8% attempted suicide, and 2.7% of high school-aged youth in Ohio had a suicide attempt that had to be treated by a doctor or nurse. Updated data from that CDC source is expected later this year.

National data on the impact of the pandemic on the mental health of children showed a 163% increase in children hospitalized for mental health from 2020 to 2021, according to NRC Health’s 2022 Pediatric Consumer Trend Report.

A national survey conducted in early 2021 by America’s Promise Alliance said almost three in four surveyed high schoolers (72%) reported a poor or decreased sense of mental health in the past 30 days, indicating that they “feel happy,” were “able to concentrate,” or that they were “playing a useful part in things,” much less than usual or not at all.

In addition to those mental health indicators, more than half of respondents (58%) reported feeling signs of distress much more than usual, such as feeling “unhappy and depressed,” “constantly under strain,” or losing “much sleep over worry,” etc.

The Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago also polled 1,000 parents across the U.S. during the pandemic, finding 71% of parents surveyed believed the pandemic had taken a toll on their child’s mental health, 69% said the pandemic was the worst thing to happen to their child, and 67% wished they’d been more vigilant about their child’s mental health from the beginning.

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