London

Risk of death and suicide for teens who visit ER for self-harm

A five-year study from the Canadian Medical Association Journal shows that Ontario teens who visit the ER for self-harm are more likely to repeat. The study also shows these patients are more likely to die of suicide, something psychiatrist Javeed Sukhera doesn't find surprising.

A London psychiatrist says long wait times for mental health treatment is part of the reason

The study also looked at five-year outcomes and revealed that teens who visit the ER once for self-harm are more likely to be readmitted. (Yuriko Nakao/Reuters)

Ontario teens who visit the emergency room for self-harm are eight times more likely to die of suicide than patients in their same demographic who visit for other reasons, according to a new study.

The Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) looked at data from about 6000 cases of adolescents between the ages of 13-17 who visited an Ontario ER at least once for self-harm. During the five-year study, researchers compared those statistics to teenagers who had been to the ER for other reasons. 

"I'm not surprised," said Javeed Sukhera, a child and adolescent psychiatrist and associate professor at Western University.  "We all know that if someone is struggling and they're waiting to get treatment, it's almost a guarantee that they're going to get worse and get to that point," he added. 

From his own experience as a psychiatrist, Sukhera says the rates of self-harm and suicidal concerns have been on the rise in London. 

We've created a system where youth describe having to be at their worst possible state to access help-Javeed Sukhera, local child and adolescent psychiatrist 

"If I'm on-call, I can almost guarantee, I will be up most of the night fielding calls from emergency rooms in our region because there's an epidemic of young people who are struggling," he added. 

The study also revealed that teenagers who visit the ER once for self-harm are more likely to be readmitted. 

"I think the emergency-departments are doing the best they can with the resources they have," Sukhera said. 

Part of the reason why teens end up in the ER is because they're faced with significantly long waiting lists for therapy, Sukhera noted.

"We've created a system where youth describe having to be at their worst possible state to access help. So, it' no surprise that they get worse while they're waiting," he said. 

According to a report from Children's Mental Health Ontario (CMHO), children in some parts of the province are waiting close to 18 months to access mental health services. 

Sukhera is calling for better funding and more resources to help youth who struggle with mental health across the province.