Screening and Coding of Suicidal Ideation Contribute to Rising Youth Mental Health Numbers

The years preceding the COVID-19 pandemic saw a concerning rise in suicidal behaviors among children, hinting at a preexisting mental health crisis. Recent analysis of data from New Jersey by Adriana Corredor-Waldron and Janet Currie suggests that part of this increase may be attributed to changes in screening and reporting practices by healthcare professionals regarding suicidal thoughts in young individuals.

Corredor-Waldron and Currie focused on hospital visits of children aged 10–18 in New Jersey from 2008 to 2019. Although there was a general upward trend in suicide-related visits during this period, the rise was predominantly driven by an increase in diagnoses of suicidal ideation rather than actual self-harm or suicide attempts.

The authors linked the increase in diagnoses to revised screening recommendations and changes in coding practices within the healthcare system. Revised screening guidelines published in 2011 encouraged annual depression screening for girls and women aged 12 and older. New coding regulations in late 2016 mandated the inclusion of a code for suicidal ideation alongside primary mental health diagnoses.

The study underscores the importance of understanding the nuances behind reported health trends. Corredor-Waldron and Currie emphasize that the observed surge in suicidal behaviors might indicate improved identification of young individuals in need of mental health treatment—a potentially positive development.

Read the article in the Journal of Human Resources: “To What Extent are Trends in Teen Mental Health Driven by Changes in Reporting? The Example of Suicide-Related Hospital Visits” by Adriana Corredor-Waldron and Janet Currie.

Adriana Corredor-Waldron is an Assistant Professor of Economics at the Poole College of Management, North Carolina State University (@CorredorWaldron). Janet Currie is a Professor of Economics and Public Affairs at Princeton University (@PrincetonCHW).