Teen Suicide Risk Higher During Pandemic
Teenage suicide is a tough topic, but important to think about during this time of increased stress and isolation.
Citizens have access to a wealth of data to evaluate the status of teen suicide. According to the CDC, youth suicide rates show an increasing trend over the past 10 years at the national level.
Citizens can drill down into the CDC data to learn more about suicide rates closer to home.
For example, the CDC allows one to view vital suicide stats by state (embedded to the left).
Many organizations, such as America's Health Rankings, process the raw data provided by the CDC by states as well to help communities understand the facts surrounding suicide.
Some organizations, such as the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, provide more recent data and have created figures based on additional demographics.
All outlets show the same thing. Suicidal trends are increasing in America across all age groups and races/ethnicities.
What about closer to home?
One may access data at the county level using the CDC's WONDER database. Or, you can go to the state health department and access the Missouri Public Health Information Management System, (MOPHIMS).
Due to the sensitive nature of these data, much of it is suppressed due to confidentiality rules. However, we are able to see how suicides have changed over time in Eastern Jackson County by age group.
Through MOPHIMS, we are also able to narrow these totals by age group somewhat. For example, we can zoom into Jackson County to focus on selected zip codes within the county.
The table above shows that in the five zip codes (64063, 64064, 64081, 64081, 64082, 64086) which make up the majority of LSR7, we lost 20 kids aged between 0 through 24 years to suicide in the eight years between 2011 and 2018. Confidentiality rules prevent the public from knowing numbers per year, in this case; however, this is an average of two to three suicides each year in those five combined zip codes.
This is tragic. And the pandemic is making support for struggling kids more difficult.
In a July 14, 2020 interview, Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the CDC, stated:
...there has been another cost that we’ve seen, particularly in high schools. We’re seeing, sadly, far greater suicides now than we are deaths from COVID. We’re seeing far greater deaths from drug overdose that are above excess that we had as background than we are seeing the deaths from COVID.
...let’s all work together and find out how we can find common ground to get these schools open in a way that people are comfortable and [they're] safe.
...if there is a need for investment and resources, just like there is a need for some of the underprivileged children that are probably better served if they have certain comorbidities to do homeschooling, they need the access to be able to have the computer and the internet to do that.
While the virus risk to oneself is one reason that kids should not attend school in the traditional, in-person way, the virtual school model is also meant to mitigate the spreading of the disease by kids to families, teachers, and other adults or other children with comorbidities. Therefore, until the community viral spread rate is not high, our young people should follow health department orders and guidelines. Because this means that kids will be more isolated, they may be at higher risk for suicidal ideation.
What should we do?
According to Psycom.net, there are risk factors that put youth at an increased risk level for suicidal ideation:
Depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders
History of sexual or physical abuse
Teens lacking social and family support
Family history of suicide.
Psycom also provides warning signs:
All teens are different, and many are adept at masking their feelings. To that end, it isn’t always possible to predict outcomes or spot signs of depression and suicidal ideation. Many do, however, exhibit some symptoms. The following are some (but not the only) potential warning signs of suicidal ideation:
Talking about death, suicide, and/or self-harm
Changes in personality or behavior that is out of character
Talking about feeling worthless, helpless, and/or hopeless
Changes in sleep patterns, including insomnia and hypersomnia
Changes in eating habits, including appetite loss and overeating
Risky or self-destructive behavior
Changes in behavior, including lack of concentration and changes in school performance
Isolating from peers and/or family
Giving away prized possessions
Expressing feelings of overwhelming shame and guilt, and making statements that others don’t care or others will be better off without me
Lack of hope for the future – feeling like things can’t possibly improve
Visiting or calling on loved ones
Getting affairs in order.
Teen anxiety and depression are compounded by the stress and isolation associated with the pandemic. The CDC has dedicated a section of its website to helping teens through the pandemic, including suicide prevention guidance.
LSR7 has been focused on suicide prevention for some time. The school district has its own dedicated webpages to support PARENTS with this issue under the Student Well Being section.
Given that it is probable that a sizable portion of the student body in the LSR7 district will be continuing with online learning at some point this fall, the district should be focusing resources on outreach and training for educators, counselors, and administration. According to the LSR7 School District's Roadmap to Reopening, there will be additional training:
Teachers will have additional training on well-being and Social-Emotional Support for students. School Counselor and Education Therapist lessons and individual meetings will be available for students in need.
No additional information is provided through the district's roadmap at this time. However, it is too much to ask that teachers be solely responsible for the mental health of children in their sphere of influence.
Therefore, the call to action is larger in that the entire community is needed to support district children.
Learn the risk factors and signs of children and teens in trouble.
If you see something, say something.
Our community must come to rely upon one another in order to get safely through this global health crisis.
WATCH Fifteen-year-old Canadian student, Liv McNeil's very short and powerful film on self-isolation during the pandemic.
For additional information related to the COVID-19 pandemic, check here.