Pensive sad boy teenager in a blue shirt and jeans sitting at the window and closes his face with his hands.

(© Irina Polonina - stock.adobe.com)

RALEIGH, N.C. — The mental health of America’s adolescents has been under a microscope in recent years as scientists and doctors alike attempt to figure out how modern life and all that comes with it is influencing tomorrow’s adults. While research in the decade leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic showed suicidal behavior was on the rise among both teens and children, a new study by North Carolina State University researchers explains that there may be more to the story.

Researchers say their work indicates at least some of the observed increases in suicidal behaviors documented in recent years are the result of changes in how health professionals screen for and report on suicidal thoughts or ideas in adolescents.

“One reason we did this study was to better understand what was happening with regard to the reported increase in suicidal behavior among young people,” says Adriana Corredor-Waldron, co-author of the new study and an assistant professor of economics in North Carolina State University’s Poole College of Management, in a media release.

“We believe there is a mental health crisis among children, and that the rate of suicide-related behaviors is high,” Corredor-Waldron adds. “However, in New Jersey, which is the state we focused on, the rate of hospital visits for self-harm and suicide attempts changed very little over the 12 years we studied. Instead, there was a significant increase in children and teens diagnosed with suicidal ideation – having suicidal thoughts. And this increase in diagnoses of suicidal ideation was associated with changes in how healthcare providers screen for and report these behaviors.”

“Hence, the study really stresses how important it is to dig into the details of what is driving reported health trends,” Prof. Corredor-Waldron continues. “This steep trend of increasing suicidal behaviors may actually reflect the fact that we are doing a better job of identifying young people who need treatment. That would be good news.”

teen depression
(Credit: Pixabay from Pexels)

To conduct this research, the study authors assessed data pertaining to all hospital visits among children between the ages of 10 and 18 in the state of New Jersey between 2008 and 2019.

While analyzing all suicide-related visits, researchers indeed noted a general upward trend over the 12-year period. However, study authors also observed that this trend was driven almost entirely by an increase in suicidal ideation diagnoses. Moreover, the timing of the increased diagnoses appears to be related to two factors: revised screening recommendations and adjustments in the “coding” of suicidal ideation.

Screening recommendations refer to guidelines published in 2011 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that encourage doctors and healthcare providers to conduct annual depression screenings for girls and women older than 12 years-old.

Coding, meanwhile, refers to the standardized system healthcare providers use to record patient diagnoses. This data can then be used to help identify larger health trends. In late 2016, however, new coding regulations were put into effect requiring providers to enter a specific code for suicidal ideation whenever it appeared as a patient’s symptom – even if the primary diagnosis for the patient was a mood disorder.

“For example, prior to 2016, if a patient had suicidal ideation and was diagnosed with depression, a healthcare provider would likely have entered only the medical code for depression,” Prof. Corredor-Waldron explains. “After 2016, providers would enter codes for both depression and suicidal ideation.”

Study authors saw an increase in the reporting of suicidal ideation after the new screening recommendations went into effect in 2011. They recorded an even larger and more dramatic increase in reporting of suicidal ideation set in after the new coding regulations were implemented in 2016.

“It’s important to note that this data is from one state, and every state is different,” Prof. Corredor-Waldron concludes. “Also, we don’t have this level of data for the time period of the COVID pandemic yet, and it would be good to see how things might have changed over the past few years.”

The study is published in the Journal of Human Resources.

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About John Anderer

Born blue in the face, John has been writing professionally for over a decade and covering the latest scientific research for StudyFinds since 2019. His work has been featured by Business Insider, Eat This Not That!, MSN, Ladders, and Yahoo!

Studies and abstracts can be confusing and awkwardly worded. He prides himself on making such content easy to read, understand, and apply to one’s everyday life.

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1 Comment

  1. tom Cool says:

    Diet has a lot to do with mental health. People need more Omega 3 oils found in fish like sardines and salmon.
    Also many mental problems are caused by negative energy spirits attaching to people’s auras and telepathically controlling the vicim’s thoughts. Many people don’t understand this and doubt it because they can’t see them. None-the-less it happens to almost everyone who gets angry with road rage or regular self destructive, self mutilating thoughts. These highly intelligent spirits just cause a person’s life to be hell. They do not want their victim, whom they are milking of energy, to understand what is going on. This needs to be better understood for better mental health.