Dr. Allie Hurst on the rising number of pediatric suicide-related emergency visits

Source: UW Health

Over the past 10 years, there has been a dramatic increase in the monthly visits to the emergency department at UW Health Kids related to mental health, with a significant jump since 2020.

Allie Hurst, MD, MS

In 2012, UW Health’s pediatric emergency department saw about 15 patients a month who required psychiatric care, but by 2022, that number jumped dramatically to more than 40 per month, with the greatest increase in cases due to suicidal ideation, drug or alcohol intoxication or overdose, according to Dr. Allie Hurst, medical director, pediatric emergency medicine, UW Health Kids, and assistant professor of pediatric emergency medicine, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

“Children are showing up every day in perilous circumstances,” she said.

Children younger than 14 years old had the highest increase in psychiatric visits over the last four years, and while children 14 to 17 years old still present at a high rate, their visit rate has been similar since 2018, Hurst said.

What is taking place at the UW Health Kids pediatric emergency department mirrors what is seen at emergency departments in other parts of the country, according to a recent article in the journal Pediatrics. Researchers analyzed emergency departments at 205 Illinois hospitals and saw that hospital emergency visits related to suicide increased 59 percent from 2016 to 2021.

Additionally, suicide is the second-leading cause of death of children ages 10 to 14 years old, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent publicly available data.

While the underlying causes of the increase in suicide-related emergency visits are not firmly known, contributing factors may include poverty, gender identity, racism, addiction, disruptions in social settings from COVID-19 lockdowns, and being exposed to death by suicide among peers.

If someone is experiencing suicidal thoughts or knows of someone who is experiencing anxiety or depression, there are resources available to help, like the national 988 hotline or speaking with a primary care physician who can direct you to the appropriate care professional, she said.

Dr. Hurst discussed health experts’ concerns about the startling number of pediatric suicide-related emergency visits with a number of Wisconsin media channels, including: Madison.com, WKOW 27 (Madison), WAOW 9 (Wausau), WQOW 18 (Eau Claire), News8000.com (La Crosse), and Spectrum News 1 here and here (Wausau).

The story was also presented on the following media channels without direct commentary from Dr. Hurst: NBC 15 (Madison, Wis.), CBS 58 (Milwaukee, Wis.), WBAY 2 (Green Bay, Wis.), WEAU 13 (Eau Claire, Wis.), KWCH 12 (Wichita, Kan.), and by Wisconsin Public Radio.