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Emergency Department Encounters Among Youth With Suicidal Thoughts or Behaviors During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Population-level reports of suicide-related emergency department (ED) encounters among youth during the COVID-19 pandemic are lacking, along with youth characteristics and preexisting psychiatric service use. To characterize population-level and relative change in suicide-related ED encounters among youth during the COVID-19 pandemic compared with 2019. This cross-sectional study evaluated ED encounters in 2019 and 2020 at Kaiser Permanente Northern California-a large, integrated, community-based health system. Youth aged 5 to 17 years who presented to the ED with suicidal thoughts or behaviors were included. The COVID-19 pandemic. Population-level incidence rate ratios (IRRs) and percent relative effects for suicide-related ED encounters as defined by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-recommended International Statistical Classification of Diseases, Tenth Revision, Clinical Modification (ICD-10-CM) codes in 4 periods in 2020 compared with the same periods in 2019. There were 2123 youth with suicide-related ED encounters in 2020 compared with 2339 in 2019. In the 2020 group, 1483 individuals (69.9%) were female and 1798 (84.7%) were aged 13 to 17 years. In the 2019 group, 1542 (65.9%) were female, and 1998 (85.4%) were aged 13 to 17 years. Suicide-related ED encounter incidence rates were significantly lower in March through May 2020 compared with this period in 2019 (IRR, 0.57; 95% CI, 0.51-0.63; P < .001), then returned to prepandemic levels. However, suicide-related ED visits among female youth from June 1 to August 31, 2020, and September 1 through December 15, 2020, were significantly higher than in the corresponding months in 2019 (IRR, 1.19; 95% CI, 1.04-1.35; P = .04 and IRR, 1.22; 95% CI, 1.11-1.35; P < .001, respectively), while suicide-related ED visits for male youth decreased from September 1 through December 15, 2020 (IRR, 0.81; 95% CI, 0.69 to 0.94). Youth with no history of outpatient mental health or suicide encounters (129.4%; 95% CI, 41.0-217.8) and those with comorbid psychiatric conditions documented at the ED encounter (6.7%; 95% CI, 1.0-12.3) had a higher risk of presenting with suicide-related problems from September to December 2020 vs the same period in 2019. In this cross-sectional study of youth experiencing suicidal thoughts and behaviors, suicide-related presentations to the ED initially decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic, likely owing to shelter-in-place orders, then were similar to 2019 levels. However, a greater number of female youth, youth with no psychiatric history, and youth with psychiatric diagnoses at the time of the ED encounter presented for suicide-related concerns during the pandemic, suggesting these may be vulnerable groups in need of further interventions. Adjustments in care may be warranted to accommodate these groups during periods of crisis.

Authors: Ridout, Kathryn K; Alavi, Mubarika; Ridout, Samuel J; Koshy, Maria T; Awsare, Sameer; Harris, Brooke; Vinson, David R; Weisner, Constance M; Sterling, Stacy; Iturralde, Esti

JAMA Psychiatry. 2021 12 01;78(12):1319-1328.

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