A meta-analysis conducted at the University of Calgary has revealed that there was a considerable spike in the number of youths who visited the emergency department due for attempted suicide or contemplated suicide during the period of social distancing.
The lead author of a study published on 9 March in Lancet Psychiatry, Dr Sheri Madigan of the Department of Psychology, conducted a meta-analysis of 42 studies encompassing more than 11 million pediatric emergency department visits in 18 countries, which he compared with data from pre-pandemic and pandemic visits up to July 2021.
Results from the pandemic period indicate that pediatric emergency department visits decreased by 32 per cent overall, but there was still a 22 per cent rise in the number of youths seeking aid for suicide attempts and an 8 per cent increase in visits related to suicide ideation.
Madigan said “What this 22 per cent increase means is that in an average emergency department setting, there were 102 child and adolescent visits per month for suicide attempts before the COVID-19 pandemic, which increased to 125 per month during the pandemic.”
Madigan was not surprised by the findings, as her research team had already conducted a study in the summer of 2021 which revealed a twofold increase in depression and anxiety symptoms in children and adolescents during the initial year of the pandemic. She had already forewarned that this constituted a worldwide mental health emergency.
“In our earlier work on mental health in the pandemic, we determined that kids were in crisis, and that we needed to bolster services and resources, or it was going to get worse. There’s been a debate during the pandemic as to whether the kids are all right or not all right.
“Now that more data have been published and analysed, we can more precisely answer that question. The kids are, in fact, not all right,” says Madigan, who is also a Canada Research Chair in Determinants of Child Development.
Madigan suggested that, initially, it may appear to be confusingly contradictory that there was a decrease in pediatric emergency department visits during the pandemic but an increase in visits due to suicide attempts and ideation. However, when further examined, it all makes perfect sense.
The researchers included studies published between January 2020 and July 2021 that contained data on pediatric emergency department visits before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, up to the summer of 2021.
Because ongoing studies on the more recent administrative health data are yet to be published, Madigan says The Lancet Psychiatry article findings provide the clearest snapshot of the pandemic up to about July 2021.
She said, “We will continue to monitor the incoming data to see if this trend of increasing emergency department visits for suicide attempts and suicide ideation among children and adolescents continues to climb as the pandemic changes and evolves.”