To say that everyone in the U.S. — around the world, too — has struggled mentally since the pandemic begin is an understatement. The only thing “normal” happening now is that people are feeling anxiety and stress during all the uncertainty in the world.
What’s not normal is the alarming increase of suicides among teens.
Dealing with everything going on is very difficult for adults, but it’s even harder for teens because they’re a much more vulnerable population. Can you imagine yourself as a teen again, trying to navigate through coronavirus, school, hormonal changes and more?
The CDC reports that suicide rates among 10 to 24 year olds have increased 57.4 percent from 2007 to 2018. That’s insane. Between 2007 to 2009 and 2016 to 2018, suicide rates increased significantly in 42 states. Significant increases ranged from 21.7 percent in Maryland to more than doubling in New Hampshire. In 2016 to 2018, suicide rates for persons aged 10 to 24 were highest in Alaska, while some of the lowest rates in the country were among states in the Northwest. Suicide is now the third-leading cause of death among 15 to 24 year olds.
My best friend, a pharmacist at Cook Children’s Hospital in Fort Worth, sent me data showing that the hospital has seen 192 kids admitted for attempting suicide in 2020. Compare that to the same time period in 2015 when the hospital saw 88 patients — less than half of the current statistics.
These numbers show that suicide among teens is a pandemic on its own.
In an article on the hospital’s newsroom website, Dr. Kia Carter, the medical director of psychiatry at Cook Children’s Medical Center, the vast majority of patients treated for self harm are girls, between the ages of 13 and 15. She also said she’s seen patients in her unit as young as 4 years talking about wanting to die.
I thought the quote below was especially insightful, in terms of kids thinking about killing themselves.
“We’ve seen a huge increase with younger kids knowing what death is because of video games,” said Dr. Carter. “We have to assess their cognitive level and find out if they know what death means or do they think it’s like the video game where they die, but get a backup player.”
Dr. Carter also acknowledged that social media plays a role in the mental health of children in teens. For example, they can be bullied online, or feel like they’re not good enough when comparing themselves to others on sites, such as Instagram. She said that a lot of kids are getting ideas on how to kill themselves or harm themselves online.
Dr. Carter went on to say that some teens research how many pills to take in order not to wake up.
Some kids — about 30 percent — were diagnosed as having gender dysphoria, which can spur feelings of depression and hopelessness in children and teens because of the discomfort and stress these kids face. Not to the mention bullying that the kids can face.
According to the Mayo Clinic, most kids with depression have a mental disorder, and because of that, have trouble coping with the stress of being a teen. Things like rejection, failure, breakups and family turmoil are some examples of what they might be dealing with. The Mayo Clinic also states that teens might also be unable to see that they can turn their lives around and that suicide is a permanent response to a temporary problem.
Risk factors for teen suicide include:
- Having depression or another psychiatric disorder
- Loss of or conflict with close friends/family members
- History of physical or sexual abuse
- Exposure to violence
- Being the victim of bullying
- Being adopted
- Family history of mood disorder or suicidal behavior
Warning signs that a teen might be suicidal include:
- Talking or writing about suicide
- Withdrawing from social contact
- Having mood swings
- Increasing use of alcohol or drugs
- Changing normal routine, including eating and sleeping patterns
- Doing risk or self-destructive things
- Developing personality changes or being severely anxious or agitated when experiencing the warning signs above
It’s important to note that some children and teens do not show any warning signs before attempting or dying by suicide. My best friend, the pharmacist, told me a story about one of her neighbors killing himself. He was only 13 years old, and according to the family, was a happy, healthy kid. But one day he took his life for reasons unknown. Sadly, this is not uncommon.
It’s also important to know that a lot of the the times, attempting suicide is an impulsive act, so they might not have considered reaching out for help.
There are also instances of kids reaching out to their parents, but the parents don’t seek help because they feel that antidepressants are dangerous for their kids to take. What’s dangerous is to allow misinformation to cloud their judgement and not rely on experts. Not believing psychiatric drugs are helpful is part of the stigma, too.
A common problem that kids/teens face is that if a 12-year-old, for example, needs psychiatric help, they sometimes slip through the cracks because they’re too old for pediatric psychiatry help but too young for adult psychiatry. Because of this, it’s important to do all the research you can and to find a good doctor who has an understanding of major depression in teens. You must be an advocate for your child, because they don’t know how to navigate such complex problems.
I don’t mean to scare anybody reading this, but it’s a huge (and overwhelmingly sad) problem that we must take care of.
I urge you to talk to your children about having feelings of hopelessness and help them learn coping skills to deal with the everything that goes along with being teen. This is especially important now because of coronavirus. Everything has changed, including their routines and being able to hang out with friends.
If you see that your child is struggling, please seek help. Early intervention is key. Consult their doctor, find a therapist and talk to them about depression. Normalizing depression and other mental illnesses will help your family be more comfortable with talking about big and overwhelming feelings.
Check out my blog on what it feels like to be suicidal here.
If your child is in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Life line at 1-800-273-8255. To learn more about suicide in teens, visit this website.