A Vanderbilt researcher says the country needs more counselors in schools to respond to a staggering rise in suicidal teens.
Pediatrician Greg Plemmons' study published in the journal Pediatrics finds that more than twice the number of school-age children are being hospitalized for suicide attempts or thoughts, compared to a decade ago. The heaviest periods, he finds, are during the school year.
The data come from 31 children's hospitals, and Plemmons , who analyzed the findings, says he sees that surge in suicidal teens at the Monroe Carrell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt. He was surprised to see the same thing in the rest of the country.
"Unfortunately, sometimes on a busy night at the hospital, we're admitting more kids with behavioral issues than with asthma or the traditional things that kids come in for, like diabetes or dehydration," he says.
Plemmons' research finds that girls make up two-thirds of the encounters, even though male teens are more likely to commit suicide, according to statistics kept by the Centers for Disease Control.
The Vanderbilt study (read here) identifies seasonal patterns that appear unique to teens. Hospitalization for suicide attempts or thoughts swells in the fall and spring and drops off during the summer months — with twice as much activity in October than July — even though adults are more likely to take their own lives in the warmer months.
It indicates heightened stress during the school year, Plemmons says, whether from bullying or classwork. But he says there's also evidence that one suicide can set off a chain of suicidal thoughts at a school.
"There's not one specific answer. Everyone wants a magic bullet, and I think there probably are a variety of factors that have led to this point," Plemmons says. "Probably taking school counselors out of the school is not a good idea right now."