Study: Frequent Mental Health Visits Reduce Suicide Risk in Children

Children with disorders such as epilepsy and schizophrenia have higher rates of suicide, but consistent care reduces risk

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(COLUMBUS, Ohio) – Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among children 10 and older, and as this public health crisis grows, experts are stressing the critical role that mental health care plays in preventing tragedies. A new study by researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center is shedding light on factors that put children at a higher risk of dying by suicide and steps that are shown to mitigate that risk.

     “If we can accurately and consistently identify children who need intervention by a mental health professional, we can provide the needed care to help them cope,” said Cynthia Fontanella, PhD, assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and lead author of the study. “Our study shows that providing these vital resources truly does save lives.”

     The study examined Medicaid data over a five-year period and found children with a history of substance abuse and those diagnosed with depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and epilepsy had higher rates of death by suicide. However, that risk decreased with a higher frequency of mental health visits within 30 days of death. To identify at-risk children, Fontanella says more screening is needed in health care settings to assess kids for depression and suicidal thoughts or behaviors. 

     “These assessments should be consistently administered in high-risk settings like emergency rooms and inpatient units but they should also be used by primary care physicians and other health care providers so that children who need help don’t slip through the cracks.”

     It’s important for parents to be aware of the signs of suicidal behavior and to talk to their children about their mental health on a regular basis.

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Arianna Galligher counsels a patient at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. A new study found that frequent mental health visits lowered the risk of suicide for at-risk children.

Kenzie Barker is a thriving freshman at Otterbein University, but a few years ago she was battling severe depression and suicidal thoughts. She credits intensive therapy at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and ongoing mental health care with saving her life.

Cynthia Fontanella, PhD, reviews adolescent suicide data at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. She led a new study that identifies factors that put children at an increased risk of suicide and steps that are shown to mitigate that risk.

Kenzie Barker’s gecko, Cinnamon, is one of her coping mechanisms to keep her depression under control. Kenzie experienced suicidal thoughts as a teen, but after receiving professional mental health care at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, she is now thriving as a college freshman.

Kenzie Barker studies at the Otterbein University student union. After battling severe depression as a teen, her parents took her to The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, where she received the mental health care she needed.



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