Youth Suicides Up With Shortage of Mental Health Professionals

Mental health professional workforce shortages are associated with increased youth suicides, according to a study published online Nov. 21 in JAMA Pediatrics.

Jennifer A. Hoffmann, M.D., from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, and colleagues conducted a retrospective cross-sectional study using data for all U.S. youth suicides from January 2015 through December 2016. The association between suicides by youth aged 5 to 19 years and mental health professional workforce shortages at the county level was examined.

The researchers identified 5,034 youth suicides during the study period, with an annual rate of 3.99 per 100,000 youths. Overall, 67.6 percent of the 3,133 U.S. counties were designated as areas of mental health workplace shortage. The designation of mental health workforce shortage was associated with an increased youth suicide rate and increased youth firearm suicide rate (adjusted incidence rate ratios, 1.16 and 1.27, respectively), after adjustment for county characteristics. The adjusted youth suicide rate increased 4 percent for every 1-point increase in the assigned numeric workforce shortage score in counties with an assigned score (adjusted incidence rate ratio, 1.04).

“Our results have relevance to policy considerations and the development of interventions to reduce youth suicides,” the authors write. “Strategies to ameliorate mental health professional workforce shortages, such as workforce development programs and integration of mental health care into primary care and schools, may be considered in comprehensive youth suicide prevention programs.”

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