The following essay is reprinted with permission from The Conversation, an online publication covering the latest research.
The hospital where I practice recently admitted a 14-year-old girl with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, to our outpatient program. She was referred to us six months earlier, in October 2022, but at the time we were at capacity. Although we tried to refer her to several other hospitals, they too were full. During that six-month wait, she attempted suicide.
Unfortunately, this is an all-too-common story for young people with mental health issues. A 2021 survey of 88 children’s hospitals reported that they admit, on average, four teens per day to inpatient programs. At many of these hospitals, more children await help, but there are simply not enough services or psychiatric beds for them.
So these children languish, sometimes for days or even a week, in hospital emergency departments. This is not a good place for a young person coping with grave mental health issues and perhaps considering suicide. Waiting at home is not a good option either – the family is often unable or unwilling to deal with a child who is distraught or violent.
I am a professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the University of Colorado, where I founded and direct the Stress, Trauma, Adversity Research and Treatment Center. For 30 years, my practice has focused on youth stress and trauma.
Over those years, I have noticed that these young patients have become more aggressive and suicidal. They are sicker when compared to years past. And the data backs up my observation: From 2007 through 2021, suicide rates among young people ages 10 to 24 increased by 62%. From 2014 to 2021, homicide rates rose by 60%. The situation is so grim that in October 2021,