Evernorth study: Risk of suicide on the rise among youth

Risk of suicide or suicide ideation is on the rise among children and adolescents, new data from Evernorth show, adding to the mounting evidence that youth mental health is a growing crisis in healthcare.

Researchers at Evernorth analyzed data from the commercial insurance market and found a 14% increase in suicide-related diagnoses among children and adolescents compared to pre-pandemic levels, accounting for 35% of all such diagnoses.

While the risk of suicide and suicide ideation was up among all age groups, the increase was highest among people aged 17 and under. The rate increase was seven times higher than in other age groups for suicide ideation and six times higher for suicide attempts from 2020 to 2021, according to the study.

"These data in general tell us that kids are really, really struggling," Stuart Lustig, M.D., national medical executive for provider partnerships at Evernorth and a child psychiatrist, told Fierce Healthcare.

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The findings build on another recent Evernorth analysis that examines the rising tide in youth mental health issues and the role employers can play in addressing those challenges. 

Lustig echoed that study, saying the findings should make stakeholders in the industry sit up and pay attention. Payers can continue investing in benefits that grow access to behavioral health services, and employers can take steps to ensure members know these options are available.

"Employers should be thinking about how to make sure people know how to access their benefits, or actively encouraging employees to reach out and use their behavioral health benefits as much as possible," he said.

The study found that females under age 17 had the highest risk in the study, twice the rate increase for suicide ideation and more than five times the rate increase for suicide attempts compared to their male peers. Females accounted for 68% of youth with suicide ideation and 79% of youths diagnosed with a suicide attempt in 2021.

Asian and Pacific Islander youth members had notably higher rates of suicide ideation when compared to other ethnic groups, according to the report. This was the only group that showed a spike in diagnoses from 2019 to 2020, the study found, with more than twice the rate of suicide ideation compared to white children and adolescents.

Lustig said this finding likely tracks with the current political climate around COVID-19 and conspiracy theories about the virus's origins, which caused many Asian and Pacific Islander people to be "significantly targeted."

In addition, the study found that children and adolescents who exhibited suicide-related behaviors were more likely to have other serious health conditions. 

"I think is definitely a wake-up call for anyone who wasn’t aware that there is a crisis of mental health in this country," Lustig said.

If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or need help for a friend or loved one, call the national Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988 to receive professional, confidential support 24 hours a day, seven days per week.