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Study: More children, teens seeking mental health help at emergency rooms

New numbers show an alarming rise in children and teens turning to the emergency rooms for help because of suicidal thoughts and attempts.

Using data from the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Case Survey, which was conducted by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, JAMA Pediatrics found that 1.2 million young people sought help for such thoughts at emergency rooms in 2015.

That is double the number of youth who did so in 2007.

Suicide rates even hit a 40-year spike among older teen girls in 2015.

Some mental health professionals in Rochester said the numbers aren’t surprising.

“We’ve seen a tremendous increase over the last few years in kids presenting to us what we call our acute service: the emergency department,” said Dr. Michael Scharf, Chief of the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the University of Rochester.

Local experts said it’s likely that pressure to do well in school, coupled with factors like living in poverty or having to deal with neighborhood issues, are contributing to the rise in numbers.

“We’ve unfortunately seen the rise in the rates of suicides under 18 in Monroe County,” said Dr. Scharf.

He said he believes there are a wide range of reasons for the growing trend, including time spent on cellphones and social media.

“Being so connected to the screen, there’s less opportunity and time for connection and interaction with people,” he said. “So it may just be the decrease in social connectedness that is a significant factor.”

However, he said the JAMA Pediatrics data isn’t all bad news.

“Some of it is positive that more people are coming to the emergency room or calling crisis lines. [It] means people are seeking help,” he said.

With the alarming trend comes the opening of resources like the Golisano Pediatric Behavioral Health and Wellness Building that is set to open in 2020. Dr. Scharf said it will add another level of immediate support and resources for the kids and families who need it the most.

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