Study says more youth seeking mental health, suicide prevention help at ERs

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The number of youth suicide attempts and completions continues to climb. Both Kansas and Missouri remain in the top 15 states for suicide risk.

And a new study finds the number of kids and teens coming to the emergency room for help has nearly doubled.

Being a parent can be overwhelming and it's not getting any easier.

"If you're a parent and you're worried about your kids' safety in car, your kids' safety from an infectious disease like the flu, or safety from substance abuse, you need to be worried about suicide risk.  It's unfortunate, but it's also very, very real," said Dr. Mitchell Douglass, University of Kansas Health System Marillac Campus medical director.

Suicide remains among top leading causes for child and teen deaths. And a new study by the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics finds in the past decade, the number of young people showing up to emergency rooms desperate for help is exploding, to more than a million kids a year. Some of them coming to the ER after a suicide attempt or with mental health concerns, are as young as 5 years old.

"We're now seeing such a dramatic increase even in those younger age groups that those kids really are at risk and we have to take those statements of self-harm very, very seriously," Dr. Douglass said.

While on the whole, doctors are getting better at screening patients for suicide risk, the emergency room isn't always the best place for that to happen.

"There's a concern that rather than being able to access acute psychiatric care in an appropriate facility -- being able to see on the same day a therapist, or child psychiatrist or mental health professional, instead they’re having to resort to the emergency room setting. So it's certainly also an argument for the greater need for psychiatric services," said Dr. Douglass.

And more services are coming to Kansas City.  A pediatric psych hospital wing at KU's Marillac campus, will soon offer 32 beds, with treatments tailored directly toward suicide prevention.

"It's going to take every one to help us identify the kids who are at risk, to identify kids prior to the point they're at acute risk of harming themselves or attempting suicide, and making sure they can have easy and good access to care," said Dr. Douglass.

Availability of follow-up care is also a huge piece of the puzzle. Once a child is discharged from the ER or a treatment facility, community resources for both the patient and their family are critical and can be life-saving.

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