Knoxville — East Tennessee Children's Hospital says it's seeing an increase in teenagers coming to the emergency room with suicidal thoughts.
A Vanderbilt University study out this week shows a similar trend nationwide.
Researchers found the number of teens going to the hospital with suicidal thoughts or attempts has doubled since 2008. Chief Nursing Officer at East Tennessee Children's Hospital, Hella Ewing, calls it an epidemic across the nation.
"We're going to be fighting this fight for a long time," Ewing said. "Within the pediatric environment, we've been focusing on this for the last four years, five years."
She says the number of children arriving at the ER who have thought about harming themselves has gone up from about 300 in 2012 to more than 600 in 2017.
"The majority of those are suicidal ideation or suicidal attempts," Ewing said. "We see a lot of kiddos that come back into us after multiple attempts."
Vanderbilt researchers identified nearly 116,000 cases at 31 children's hospitals. Just over half of those cases were children ages 15 to 17. The study found common reasons included school stress and social media.
Amy Dolinky focuses on East Tennessee for the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network.
"These are so many families that are affected, not just numbers," Dolinky said.
She says parents need to develop a relationship with their children.
"I don't think we can ever ask too much," Dolinky said. "I think that it's very hard to come out and say 'I'm having thoughts of suicide,' so having that person to have that safe space to come out and talk about it is very important."
She tells parents to ask kids directly about it.
"Saying things like are you thinking about killing yourself, are you thinking about suicide?" Dolinky said. "Youth are talking about it, it's the adults that seem to be slightly more uncomfortable."
Ewing says organizations like hers help teens come together to combat the growing suicide numbers.
If you're worried about your child, the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network has some warning signs of suicidal thoughts you can look for. Also, the Helen Ross-McNabb Center helps East Tennesseans with behavioral health resources.
You can call the Mobile Crisis Hotline at 865-539-2409 to get help if you're child is having suicidal thoughts.