Teen suicide is a tough subject to talk about. It is complex in its development and it is never caused by just one thing. As a former flight paramedic, I have had to treat this type emergency in a medical environment. As a therapist, I have kind of a different pulse on the community. These unintended consequences of the pandemic have had a dramatic effect on the mental health of our children and teens At the end of last year, not only was I hearing there was an increase in teen suicide in Butte county I was seeng the effects of pandemic restrictions on one of our most vulnerable populations.
Teens and children in general thrive on social connections, specifically in-person social connections. Take school for example. For some, video classes and remote learning has caused a disconnect in their social network. For others, getting to go to school was the one way they could escape from what was going on at home and where they could find the support and resources they needed. According to an article by the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Significantly higher rates of suicide-related behaviors appear to have corresponded with times when COVID-19 stressors and community responses (e.g., stay-at-home orders and school closures) were heightened, indicating that youth experienced elevated distress during these periods, according to “Suicide Ideation and Attempts in a Pediatric Emergency Department Before and During COVID-19” (Hill RM, et al. Pediatrics. Dec. 16, 2020).”
What about Butte County? “Data compiled by the Butte County Sheriff’s Office show more teenagers died by suicide in 2020 than in 2019 and 2018 combined. Five county teens died from suicide last year, ranging in ages from 15 to 19. There were two teen suicide deaths in 2019, and one in 2018. Scott Kennelly, the county’s director of Behavioral Health, says there has been an uptick in children seeking mental health services for the first time over the course of the coronavirus pandemic.“We are seeing a significant increase in the number of people who are either suicidal – calling our crisis line – or who are actually engaging in a suicidal act, trying to hurt themselves,” Kennelly said.”
As I mentioned at the beginning, suicide is complex in its development and never caused by one thing. So what can we do? Here is a link to a great article by Healthychildren.org that discusses the signs that your children may need help. I know sometimes as a parent we may feel anxious or uncertain about how we should approach this subject with our children, which is where talk therapy can help. Sometimes children feel better talking to another non familial adult about sensitive subjects like suicide, even though ideally we would like them to come to us but teen years are all about forming an identity beyond the home, and sometimes another adult can have a different but inspiring and affirming perspective, or has lived an experience that a teen can identify with.
Plus, there is simply less emotional baggage when a teen interacts with someone other than their parents. You are still their emotional center, their safe place to land but parents can sometimes “unleash” some of their teen’s more childish, “clingy” emotion and confiding in someone other than a parent might feel more emotionally safe, at least for now. You’re still the person who enforced bedtimes and dealt with tantrums, not necessarily someone your teen is turning to for advice or mentorship.But when that doesn’t happen, talk therapy has been shown to reduce the risk of suicide. It can also help identify and treat the underlying causes of this complex and devastating mental health issue.