Canadian children’s hospital visits for suicidal thoughts, self-poisoning and self-harm up during pandemic, study finds

A new study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) has found that adolescent emergency department (ED) visits and hospitalizations for suicidal thoughts, self-harm and self-poisoning increased across Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially among adolescent girls.

Researchers from Pediatric Emergency Research Canada (PERC), a network of 15 paediatric hospitals across Canada, looked at national data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) on ED visits and hospitalizations among adolescents ages 10-18 from April 2015 to March 2022.

“Hospital admissions for suicidal ideation, self-poisoning and self-harm increased significantly in the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dr. Naveen Poonai, Scientist at Lawson Health Research Institute and Paediatric Emergency Medicine Physician at Children’s Hospital at London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC). “What came as a surprise to us is that the greatest increase was among adolescent females, a demographic that is often overlooked."    

Dr. Naveen Poonai
Dr. Naveen Poonai

Emergency department visits for suicidal ideation, self-poisoning and self-harm rose during the pandemic (April 1, 2020 to March 31, 2022) compared to the average from the previous five years, while hospital admissions for these conditions increased significantly, rising 11 per cent, particularly among females, with the largest increase seen among 10 to 14 year olds. 

Social isolation, education disruption, fears of contagion and financial hardship are among the reasons the pandemic may have had a greater impact on adolescents, as they are more susceptible to psychological impacts from isolation. 

 “Our findings underscore an urgent need for public health policies to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and future pandemics on the mental health of adolescents, including screening programs for suicide risk that include younger adolescents,” says Dr. Poonai, who was the leader author on the study and is an Associate Professor at Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry at Western University.

This research was made possible in part through funding from the Children’s Health Foundation

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