NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The number of children and teenagers hospitalized for suicidal thoughts or attempts has more than doubled since 2008.
According to a study from Vanderbilt University, among 31 hospitals across the United States, the percentage of encounters with suicidal adolescents rose from .6 percent to 1.8 percent in a period from 2008 to 2015.
That may sound like a small number, but in that seven year period, hospitals had 115,856 encounters in their emergency rooms.
"If someone is actively saying 'I really want to harm myself', we know that's a huge issue and they need to be kept safe. Part of that is coming into the hospital and receiving care," said Dr. Greg Plemmons, researcher and Associate Professor Pediatrics at Vanderbilt.
Two-thirds of the encounters were with girls. More than half were teenagers from 15 to 17 years old. While 12.8 percent of the cases were with children ages 5 to 11.
Plemmons said the data is alarming, but not unexpected.
"We know that anxiety and depression are on the rise in kids and teenagers," said Plemmons. "We know that colleges for instance have reported a huge uptick in mental health services. So, we know this has been going on for a while."
Theories behind what's causing the increase range from the growth of social media to increased pressure to do well in school, or possibly factors such as a family history of depression.
"I think we should be worried as a society. I think it's very alarming when we know that this is going on with our youth. When we know our mental health resources at times are not great. We know that people that still suffer from depression and anxiety, don't have access to care and about half of kids who truly are depressed don't have a medical health provider or someone they can go to," said Plemmons.
Researchers found most of the kids were referred for hospital care by a family member, school official or a counselor. Plemmons said identifying suicidal kids can be difficult. It's not always obvious when there's a problem.