In America, the rate of suicide among individuals aged 10 to 24, has shot up by 50% since 1999. “Suicide is currently the second leading cause of death in this age group, accounting for nearly 6,800 deaths in 2017.” Recent research findings from a novel study show that, “the odds of suicide decreased among those who had more mental health visits within the 30 days before the date of suicide [and] young people with epilepsy, schizophrenia, and substance use, have a higher risk of suicide.”
This important insight which was published in JAMA Pediatrics, derives from a study of Medicaid enrollees in sixteen different states. It was headed by scientists at the Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State University, who made a comparison of the mental health service patterns and clinical profiles of the general population and adolescents and children who have committed suicide.
The well known associate professor at Wexner Medical Center’s department of psychiatry and behavioral health, Cynthia Fontanella, stated, “To the best of our knowledge, no studies have examined the clinical profiles and health and mental health service utilization patterns prior to suicide for children and adolescents within the Medicaid population. Understanding how health care utilization patterns of suicidal decedents differ from the general population is critical to target suicide prevention efforts.”
Accounting for close to two thirds of the entire Medicaid population of children, the research involved 910 youngsters who passed away from taking their own lives between 2009 and 2013, when they were 10 to 18 years of age. This was compared to 6,346 youngsters in a control group. In both instances, the scientists examined behavioral and health visits over a six-month period before the time of suicide.
Putting a Spotlight on the Links
The researchers analyzed connections between suicide, clinical characteristics, and visits. The clinical characteristics incorporated psychiatric diagnoses (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, conduct disorders, depression, bipolar disorder and other mood disorders, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia/psychosis, substance use and other mental health disorders) and chronic medical conditions (diabetes, seizure disorders, cerebral palsy, asthma or cancer).”
Fontanella, who is also a member of the Neurological Institute in Ohio state, is also busy conducting studies on mental health services for adolescents and children. Her research has a strong focus on youth from disadvantaged circumstances, as well as on those who suffer from serious emotional disturbances.
She stated, “Our study found that 41% of youth who died by suicide had at least one mental health diagnosis in the six months prior to death, a finding similar to those of previous studies on adults. Our findings suggest that youths with psychiatric disorders, particularly mood disorders, schizophrenia and substance use, should be routinely assessed for suicide risk and receive high-intensity, evidence-based treatments for suicidality, such as cognitive behavioral therapy.”
Clearly, there is an urgent need for suicide screening protocols for youngsters who are registered with Medicaid. Fontanella recommends that this should be, “Targeted on the basis of frequency of visits and psychiatric diagnoses.” Let’s hope that this happens soon and that these screenings allow for these at-risk youth to get the professional help they need.