Mental health professionals express concern over rise in pediatric suicide-related emergencies

Published: Jan. 19, 2023 at 6:11 PM CST
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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - UW-Health pediatric behavioral health specialist Shanda Wells, PsyD said there is a trend with young patients in the emergency room.

“We’ve seen a really large increase with children, adolescents in particular, coming to the emergency room with suicide attempts,” said Dr. Wells.

Her role at the hospital is more in pediatric care, which she said also has seen an increase with patients experiencing anxiety and depression.

“We’ve really seen the increase in just the past two years, we have been estimating my providers would probably be seeing around 150 patients per year, and they’re seeing closer to 300,” said Dr. Wells.

Child psychiatrist Dr. Alison Jones, with Marshfield Clinic, is seeing the same sort of issues.

“I know that we are seeing more of our outpatient children and adolescents that are in a more acute level of distress.”

Trying to combat the rise in need for mental health care among the youth has also come with its own challenges.

“The resources aren’t increasing at the same rate that the resources are being needed,” said Dr. Jones.

One of those resources, mental health care providers specifically trained in dealing with pediatric cases.

“There’s even less child providers than there are adult providers. We’re seeing kind of a double whammy,” said Dr. Wells.

She also said factors that could drive a child to suicide have gotten worse in recent years.

“It’s ringing true to many of the things that we know put teens at risk for suicide. Which are things like loneliness, and feelings of hopelessness and isolation. And those things have certainly been exasperated by the pandemic,” said Dr. Wells.

Mental health experts recommend an open line of communication even though it may be hard.

“Not only not being afraid to ask but also not being afraid to listen and to really hear them and to hear what they are saying,” said Dr. Jones.

As for the decrease in resources, Dr. Wells said the solution to help those in need can vary.

“I don’t know if there’s one solution that would fit all, but I think thinking creatively about how we service those patients can be a step in that direction,” said Dr. Wells.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with mental health, there is help. The National Suicide Crises Lifeline is open 24/7 and can be dialed as 988.