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Ohio State research shows troubling suicide trend

Feeling Hopeless signs are hung up along the walls in parking garages at Ohio State. Credit: Casey Cascaldo | Photo Editor

New research conducted by Ohio State researchers shows a relatively high rate of suicide among Medicaid-insured adolescents.

The “National Comparison of Suicide Among Medicaid and Non-Medicaid Youth,” a study published by six researchers in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine in January, examined the rate of suicide among Medicaid-insured youth versus non-Medicaid youth.

Cynthia Fontanella, one of the researchers and an associate professor of psychiatry at Wexner Medical Center, said that prior to this research, it was unclear if Medicaid youth had a high suicide risk.

“No one has looked at this,” Fontanella said. “And youth in Medicaid is a very vulnerable population.”

Fontanella said researchers hypothesized that the suicide rate would be higher among Medicaid-insured youth due to their various adverse experiences linked to poverty, such as child maltreatment.

The study looked at death certificates in 16 states from 2009 to 2013 for youth between the ages of 10 and 18. It concluded that 39 percent of youths who died by suicide in the United States during that time frame were dependent on Medicaid.

According to the study, there were not notable differences in percentages regarding overall suicide rates in Medicaid and non-Medicaid youth, but the researchers did find that the rate of suicide was considerably higher in certain subgroups.

John Campo, assistant dean for behavioral health and chief behavioral wellness officer at West Virginia University and a former Ohio State researcher, said that while there was not a significant difference in overall suicide rate, there were significant differences depending on age and gender.

“The young people who killed themselves in the Medicaid group were younger,” Campo said. “More of those who died were 10 to 14 years.”

According to the study, Medicaid youth between the ages of 10 and 14 had a 28 percent higher risk of suicide than non-Medicaid youth.

Campo also said that female Medicaid youth of all ages were at a much higher risk for suicide than females of the non-Medicaid group. According to the study, young females on Medicaid have a 14 percent higher suicide rate than non-Medicaid youth.

Another difference between Medicaid and non-Medicaid youth suicides was the method. More Medicaid youth killed themselves by hanging than non-Medicaid youth, Campo said.

Campo said the significance behind the difference in method is that hanging is typically more likely to be lethal.

The study highlighted the heightened vulnerability among young people on Medicaid, and Fontanella said that in order to change these statistics, there needs to be effective suicide screening among Medicaid enrollees, especially adolescents.

“What we know now that we don’t really act like we know is that among young people, the No. 1 cause of death is accidents, [and] No. 2 is suicide,” Campo said. “Most children in adolescence who die by suicide die on their very first attempt.”

If you’re feeling suicidal, reach out to somebody. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text ‘START’ to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741.

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