Suicide attempts among underage girls triple and reach an all-time high

The suicide attempts in girls under 19 years of age increased in 2021 by 181%; ie, tripled, with respect to the previous year. In boys, the figures also increased, but to a lesser extent: a 19%. These are values from the program of attention to suicidal behavior of the minor of the. Sant Joan de Déu Hospital (Esplugues de Llobregat), who warns that the general worsening of mental health is affecting very significantly on adolescent girls. That 181% increase in them is the all-time high since 2003, when this unit was commissioned. Suicide attempts are the reason for inpatient care of greatest severity. Data from Sant Joan de Déu show that. mental health pandemic, at least in adolescence, Is affecting both sexes differently. And psychologists and psychiatrists put the focus on screens and social networks, whose use has increased as a result of the pandemic.

In the suicide phenomenon there is the so-called gender paradox: more attempts have always been committed by women than by men, but, at the same time, completed suicides (i.e., deaths) occur more in men than in women. However, both health care providers and agencies are concerned about the spike in suicide attempts, more marked than ever, which is occurring in girls and girls. According to Sant Joan de Déu, in 2020 the center’s psychiatric emergency departments treated 26 boys and 128 girls respectively who attempted suicide. In 2021, the gap was even wider as. attempts were committed by 31 boys and 360 underage girls. The difference between them and them is growing. These figures coincide with Catalonia as a whole: yesterday the ‘conseller’ Argimon reported that, in the whole territory and from 2020 to 2021, the attempts in girls under 18 years of age passed from 483 cases to 1,265.

The Hospital Sant Joan de Déu had already warned months ago in this newspaper that suicide attempts in children under 19 years of age, of both sexes, had increased by 300% in 2021. However, now the psychologist Francisco Villar, who coordinates the center’s program of attention to the suicidal behavior of minors, warns that “all the people who are coming through the door of our psychiatric EDs are girls.” And they do so essentially for two causes: for suicide attempts y by eating disorders (ED).

The same diagnosis is made by the entities. Since 2020, the Associació Catalana de Prevenció del Suïcidi attends to 15% more families whose young or adolescent children have either been hospitalized for suicide attempts, or are worried about them. This entity does not have figures that differentiate by sex, but the majority of these families, it assures, arrive worried about their daughters. “We attend, above all, to mothers of girls.” certifies Clara Rubio, president of the association.

The Associació Catalana de Prevenció del Suïcidi attends 15% more families with daughters with problems.

The Conselleria de Salut de Catalunya has taken steps, over the last two years, to strengthen mental health. For example, it has approved a suicide prevention plan with the goal of reducing the rate of attempted and self-inflicted death by more than 15% by 2030 (with a budget allocation of 15 million over four years). It has also set up a suicide hotline within 061 and has hired some 400 emotional wellness referents. in primary care, among other measures. Entities such as the Associació Catalana de Prevenció del Suïcidi (Catalan Association of Suicide Prevention) value that Catalonia “is on the right track”, although it is “insufficient”. “More urgent than the community role is the need to expand the number of psychologists and social educators. And to ensure continuity of care after an admission for suicide attempts,” says Rubio.

The origin, covid-19

Psychiatric emergencies of minors of both sexes at Sant Joan de Déu decreased. during the 2020 confinement, as in many other countries. Once the confinement was over, there was a recovery of psychiatric emergencies. in boys up to prepandemic levels. The girls, however, experienced a rise that ended up doubling the pre-covid-19 levels, reaching increases of more than 100%. These differential increases by sex in adolescence are specifically observed in the case of suicidal behavior (which includes, for example, suicidal ideations and not just attempts) and, more specifically, in the suicide attempts.

Such a marked difference by sex is not observed, for example, in the adulthood. The Suicide prevention unit of the Hospital de Sant Pau (Barcelona), which, unlike Sant Joan de Déu, attends only adults, does not perceive that there is a growing gap between the two sexes. “We see a general increase -not only in women- of the suicide attempts at all ages. In five or six years they have doubled in number. [en hombres y mujeres]. And the suicides have increased by 5% to 10%,” he explains. Victor Serrano, psychiatrist at the Sant Pau unit.

What is happening?

The spike in suicide attempts in young girls has always existed, but now “something is happening” that is further straining this emotional pain. Villar, who assures that patients arrive at his unit with the same reasons as before (the suffering, the external pressure, the idealization of other bodies, the obligation to be happy all the time), he believes that the social networks are a key factor. “During the pandemic there was a increased access to screens. My hypothesis is that this increased exposure has had these effects on the female gender. Studies show that boys and girls use screens differently: they use them to play, they use them to understand the world,” reflects this psychologist.

A series like ‘For thirteen reasons’, which tells the story of a young woman who commits suicide, increased suicide attempts in girls by up to 32%. at Sant Joan de Déu. “There are reports that showed that Instagram, for example, generates anorexia y suicides in girls. We are model imitators by nature. Just as ‘Queen’s Gambit’ increased the number of chess players by two and a half million,” he notes.

“During the pandemic there was greater access to screens. Boys and girls use them differently: they use them to play, girls to understand the world,” says a psychologist

Girls, experts say, build much more of their identity through social networks. But these launch misleading messages: ideals and perfect, unattainable bodies. Network messages are, in general, more directed at them. Algorithms look for them under the false premise of “becoming whatever one wants to be”. “On the flip side of this magical voluntarism is the depression, realizing that you never reach and never attain this ideal. They don’t look normal because they compare; it’s all very image-based. Frustration leads you to contempt for life.” says the psychologist.

The thesis is also supported by psychiatrist Victor Serrano, who believes that “the social pressure of trying to please through networks and not getting it affects.” “And this has a lot to do with the mental health problems.” Another aspect fostered by social networks, for example, is the sexualization of girls and adolescents, which is also a tool of social control because it places women, whatever their age, as objects of passive desire.

One of the risk factors for suicide attempts is the isolation, as the Associació Catalana de Prevenció del Suïcidi reminds us. And the social networks, Rubio warns, contribute to this. He also recalls that the other factor why more suicide attempts are seen in women than in men is because. they ask for help more. “A suicidal behavior is a demand for help. Men have a harder time with it.” reflects the president of the association. Mothers who come to the entity worried about their daughters often “do not know how to connect” with them and “do not understand their suffering.” “They know they are suffering because it has reached them through friends or social networks, but they have a lot of difficulties in establishing an effective approach,” says Rubio. The association offers workshops and educational groups.

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