News Archive: Jan. thru Oct. 2021
Penn Medicine Researchers Awarded $14 Million to Launch Suicide Prevention Implementation Research Center
Penn’s INSPIRE Center aims to reduce racial and gender disparities in suicide prevention research
Suicide is a leading cause of death in the United States that disproportionately affects minority and disenfranchised communities, including Black, Hispanic, and LGBTQ populations. Yet, these groups often are not included in suicide prevention research. In an effort to reduce disparities and increase the understanding of suicide, the National Institutes of Health awarded Penn Medicine researchers a grant of more than $14 million over the next five years to develop the Penn Innovation in Suicide Prevention Implementation Research (INSPIRE) Center.
Led by Maria A. Oquendo, MD, PhD, chair of Psychiatry in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, and Gregory K. Brown, PhD, a research associate professor of Clinical Psychology in Psychiatry at Penn and director of the Penn Center for the Prevention of Suicide, the center brings together psychiatry, implementation science, health economics, machine learning, and other interdisciplinary research experts to apply innovative approaches to suicide prevention.
This Teenager Is Developing a Video Game That Assesses Your Mental Health
Rasha Alqahtani, an 18-year-old from Saudi Arabia, is determined to help her peers learn about their anxiety—in the wildly popular setting of ‘Minecraft’
At one point last year, high schooler Rasha Alqahtani had finals coming up and 35 Zoom calls booked. To manage her busy schedule, she had duplicate calendars—one on Google Calendar, the other printed and placed behind her laptop, so that even a power outage wouldn’t derail her. The now-18-year-old from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, had laser-like focus on an extracurricular passion project: Creating a video-game tool to help diagnose teenagers with generalized anxiety disorder.
Alqahtani’s ambitious proposal—inspired, in part, by personal experience with the stressors of the pandemic—won her a behavioral science award in this year’s Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair, an annual competition for ninth through twelfth graders administered by the Society for Science in Washington, D.C. Her prototype aims to address the problems of stigma and inaccessibility that, psychologists say, present substantial roadblocks to teens getting mental health care.
Students Face Worsening Mental Health, But How Will Schools Handle It?
As students return to school amid an ongoing pandemic, school
Ginny, 15, had been trying to tell her mom how bad her mental health was, but her mom just wasn’t getting it — she would tell Ginny that all teenagers are hormonal and that her life was good compared to others so she shouldn’t be sad. It wasn’t until a friend’s mother found text messages detailing Ginny’s recent self-harm and told Ginny’s mom that she realized just how precarious Ginny’s mental health really was.
Ginny is one of the many people experiencing the widespread mental health ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic. More than a year of uncertainty marked by social upheaval, rampant unemployment, extreme isolation, and a pandemic that has left over 618,000 Americans dead has, according to multiple studies, worsened Americans’ mental health. But teenagers appear to have been especially affected: One poll found that nearly half of parents they surveyed reported their children’s mental health worsened during the pandemic, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that emergency room visits in February and March of this year for suspected suicide attempts among girls ages 12-17 rose 50% from the same period in 2019.
How to protect teens’ mental health as school year begins amid pandemic
When the pandemic began more than a year ago, the country changed overnight. For teens everywhere, there were a lot of unexpected adjustments — schools closed, extracurricular activities were non-existent and friendships were reduced to Zoom hangouts and virtual TikTok challenges.
The uncertainty of when or if school would resume in person, and then the reality that for many teens, an entire school year would be lost to the pandemic triggered feelings of anxiety, isolation and depression, experts said.
“For the extrovert kids who were used to being out and about, the pandemic brought a lot of anxiety and depression because of decreased social interaction,” Dr. Chioma Iheagwara, division chief of child and adolescent psychiatry at Belmont Behavioral Health System, told “Good Morning America.”
Researchers reveal new suicide prevention tools from survivors
In suicide research, lessons from survivors – people who, despite the urge to die, find ways to cope and reasons to live – are seldom heard.
Cornell researchers and their colleagues have written one of the first studies to change that.
“Strategies to Stay Alive: Adaptive Toolboxes for Living Well with Suicidal Behavior,” published July 29 in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. In the study, the authors present a series of interviews with suicidal individuals that opens new avenues of research into suicide prevention and offers a rare window into the minds of those who have considered or attempted suicide.
“I find it ironic that suicide, a most personal decision and the ultimate existential trajectory, should be generalized,” said Vilma Santiago-Irizarry, a co-author on the study and associate professor of anthropology and Latina/o studies in the College of Arts and Sciences (A&S). “A goal of research in this field should be to capture the voices of those who are enmeshed in difficult situations and to determine what they themselves have to tell us.”
The Imperfect Storm: College Students and Suicide
It had been less than two weeks into the fall semester when Harvard sophomore Luke Tang took his life on September 12, 2015. Tang was a polished violinist and keen mathematician who had recently been branded with the Lowellian crest; in just one month, he would have declared a concentration in the Physics Department. His profound academic record, however, ran alongside a tremendous mental burden that would eventually lead to self-harm.
His death ignited new inquiry into the responsibility of universities to address the mental health needs of their students and prevent against suicide, a concern which has grown in recent decades. A 2010 NCBI report found suicide to be the second-leading cause of death among college students in the United States, with 1,100 students taking their own lives each year. Yet, mental health services at universities have been termed “woefully inadequate” to handle this crisis, leaving many young people in the lurch of despair.
Health Fusion: Artificial intelligence predicts suicide risk in students
If we could spot students at risk of suicide, we’d save lives. Artificial intelligence is making that possible. In this episode of NewMD’s podcast, “Health Fusion,” Viv Williams looks at how machine learning is helping researchers identify four predictors of suicidal behaviors.
The following statistic, noted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is alarming. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in adolescents ages 15-19. How can we prevent these tragedies from happening?
Researchers from McGill University, University of Montreal and two other organizations in France are using artificial intelligence to identify kids at risk. And they found that self-esteem is one of four main contributing factors.
“Early detection of suicidal behaviors and thoughts is the key to providing appropriate treatment,” says lead author Mélissa Macalli, a PhD Candidate at University of Bordeaux.
The research team followed more than 5,000 college students and found that out of 70 predictors, four of them — suicidal thoughts, anxiety, depressive symptoms, and self-esteem — were present in 80% of the suicidal behaviors they saw at follow up.
They singled out self-esteem as being a major factor and recommend it be included in screening. The researchers say their study may help to develop screening tools, such as questionnaires, that can accurately predict risk easily and quickly.
Multiple Risk Factors Tied to Childhood Suicide
Most events took place in child’s home; ADHD was the most common mental health issue
A host of common factors were associated with children who died by suicide, a qualitative study found.
In an analysis of 134 childhood suicide cases (average age 11 years) in the U.S., nearly all occurred in the child’s home, more specifically their bedroom, reported Donna Ruch, PhD, of the Abigail Wexner Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, and colleagues.
The most common method of suicide was hanging or suffocation with a belt or other clothing item, which accounted for nearly 80% of childhood suicides, they wrote in JAMA Network Open.
The second most common method was by firearm, which represented nearly 19% of these suicides, and more than half of these deaths included a handgun.
In the 88% of suicide by firearm cases that had detailed information on gun access, all cases occurred when the firearm wasn’t safely stored inside the home. For example, one case detailed how “the father kept his gun loaded in the front room where it was not stored securely.” In another case, “the victim’s mother kept the pistol and ammunition unlocked in her nightstand,” according to the authors.
Only about 3% of childhood suicides involved poisoning or another method, and in more the half of these cases, an adult was present in the home at the time of the suicide.
More Children Are Dying By Suicide Recently, Study Shows
A new study shows an increase in suicidality among children as young as five and investigates the shared characteristics among kids who die by suicide. Researchers hope to improve prevention efforts.
‘Something you cannot ignore’: Cannabis use linked to increased thoughts of suicide in young adults, study shows
Young adults who use cannabis are more likely to think about and make plans to kill themselves, a new national study shows.
About a third of severely depressed young people considered suicide between 2009 and 2019, compared with more than half of those with depression who also used cannabis daily.
For those without depression, 9% of daily cannabis users and 7% of regular users reported suicidal ideation, or thoughts of suicide, survey data from 281,000 people ages 18-31 showed.
“Consumption of marijuana increases your risk of suicidal behaviors,” said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which led the study.
According to 2019 data from NIDA, 45 million Americans used cannabis and 9.8 million were daily or near daily users. In the same year, 4.7% of adults over the age of 18 reported feelings of depression. There were more than 47,500 suicide deaths in 2019, according to the CDC.
8-Year-Olds in Despair: The Mental Health Crisis Is Getting Younger
The number of children who need urgent mental health care has been on the rise for years, and spiked during the pandemic.
When Marie, 11, called a suicide prevention hotline in October, nobody saw it coming. Not even Marie herself, who had been bottling up feelings of loneliness and sadness for months without telling anyone.
Her relationships with some of her closest friends had started to suffer when school went online last year, and she worried about losing other people in her life, too. What if they moved away? What if they died?
One weekday afternoon, she put on her headphones and listened to music while taking a walk, and she began to get increasingly upset. Even now, she isn’t sure exactly why.
“I knew that I needed help, but I didn’t really know who to go to,” she said.
She searched for a suicide prevention hotline on her phone, and wondered momentarily whether the crisis counselors would take her seriously. Then, she called.
AMA adopts policy to address increases in youth suicide and save lives
With an increase in suicide and suicide risk in youth and young adults across the U.S. since 2007, the American Medical Association (AMA) adopted policy during the Special Meeting of its House of Delegates aimed at preventing suicide in young people. The adopted policy report outlines risk factors for youth suicide, including the role of mental health, substance use disorder, adverse childhood experiences, increased use of digital devices, bullying and cyberbullying, and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The report also identifies evidence-based interventions, protective factors, as well as resources to enhance resiliency aimed at mitigating youth suicide risk.
According to a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study, there was a 31% increase in the proportion of mental health–related emergency department visits for youth aged 12–17 years during 2020 as compared to 2019. Particularly concerning, CDC data also showed increased rates of suicide ideation and suicide attempts in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic as compared with 2019 rates. Given these staggering statistics, the AMA is publicly calling attention to the escalating crisis in children and adolescent mental health in the U.S. in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and has adopted policy aimed at addressing this serious health concern.
Sharp uptick seen in suspected suicide attempts among teenage girls: CDC
There was a 51% rise seen in girls versus a 4% rise among boys.
After an initial drop in suicide-related emergency department visits at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are reporting that suspected teenage suicide attempts rose in 2021, with the increase driven by a dramatic uptick among teenage girls.
The CDC said in a report released Friday that there was a 51% rise in suspected suicide attempts among girls ages 12 to 17 from Feb. 21 to March 20, 2021, compared to the same time period in 2019–prior to the pandemic.
Among boys, there was a 4% rise in suspected suicide attempts over the same period when comparing this year to 2019. The authors noted that this does not mean there was necessarily an uptick in suicide deaths.
Although Friday’s CDC report did not speculate on why this might be the case, experts interviewed by ABC News said it could be due to gender differences in psychiatric manifestations, development and socialized behaviors.
ADHD medications might help lessen the risk of suicide in children with serious behavioral issues, a new study suggests.
Researchers found that medications like Ritalin and Adderall, commonly prescribed for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), were linked to a lower risk of suicidal behavior among 9- and 10-year-olds with substantial “externalizing” symptoms.
That included children with high levels of ADHD hyperactivity symptoms, as well as kids with signs of oppositional defiant disorder or conduct disorder.
Children with oppositional defiant disorder are prone to angry outbursts, arguing with adults, and acting resentful or spiteful, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those with conduct disorder often act aggressively and violate social norms — by stealing or damaging property, for instance.
Meet Gizmo, the therapy dog behind a new, national mental health curriculum for kids
Gizmo’s mission is to help kids find coping skills and begin to heal from the pandemic.
Gizmo is a small pup with a big mission: to help kids heal from the COVID-19 pandemic. As psychological and emotional issues among kids skyrocket, this 3-and-a-half pound dog is the voice behind a new curriculum, “Gizmo’s Pawsome Guide to Mental Health,” which will teach kids in schools across America about mental health.
More Kids Struggle With Mental Health Challenges Because Of The Pandemic
Colorado Children’s hospital declared a pediatric mental health emergency as suicide attempts and psychiatric help-calls for children spike. Kids say they feel stress and anxiety on multiple fronts.
Hospital officials say Colorado is in a youth mental health crisis. Pediatric emergency room visits were up 72% this year through April. And in April alone, it was even worse – 90%. And the visits are mostly for suicidal ideation or suicide attempts. Chief Medical Officer Dr. David Brumbaugh says in 20 years, he’s never seen such a demand for services. He recalls a father who brought in his ninth-grade son who tried to take his life after he didn’t get on a baseball team.
Young Adults with Schizophrenia Have Highest Suicide Risk
Columbia study also finds people with schizophrenia, overall, have a 4.5-fold increased risk of dying from suicide.
Adults with schizophrenia have an elevated risk of dying from suicide. Yet there’s only limited understanding of when and why people with schizophrenia die of suicide —in part because research studies have looked at relatively small groups of patients.
Now a new study from Columbia that looked at a large population of adults diagnosed with schizophrenia has found the youngest group (18-34) had the highest suicide risk and those aged 65 and older had the lowest. By comparison, in the general U.S. population, younger adults have less risk and older age groups have greater risk.
The Columbia study, published online May 26 in the journal JAMA Psychiatry also showed that people with schizophrenia, overall, have a 4.5-fold increased risk of dying from suicide, the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.
“When a person with schizophrenia is becoming suicidal, an attempt can happen with little warning,” said Mark Olfson, Elizabeth K. Dollard professor of psychiatry at Columbia and lead author of the study. “Often, suicidal behavior in schizophrenia is driven by psychotic processes. This aspect can make it difficult to anticipate and prevent.”
Suicidal ideations increased for young adults, minorities in 2020
A recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated that pandemic anxiety and depression increased in the U.S. from April to June of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.
The report uncovered an increase in substance abuse, mental health issues, and suicidal thoughts for young adults, minorities, caregivers, and essential workers.
“The pandemic has caused all sorts of different problems,” said Larry Valentine, director of Mental Health Services at Orange Coast College. “Through all the difficulties that have been going on, there’s sort of an increased sense of despair.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 12 million Americans have had ideas about taking their own life in 2019. In the U.S., suicide rates increased by 33% from 1999-2019 and suicide is the tenth leading cause of death.
Why Suicides Have Decreased During the COVID-19 Pandemic
• Suicides decreased by almost 6 percent last year during the COVID-19 pandemic, the sharpest drop in 4 decades.
• Experts say one reason is people tend to rally around each other during times of crisis, such as a pandemic or war.
• They added that people tend to be open about their feeling during these times and more likely to seek mental health services.
As unsettling as the COVID-19 pandemic has been for so many, officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say suicides in the United States actually went down nearly 6 percent last year.
The decline to fewer than 45,000 suicides is the largest annual drop in at least 4 decades, although experts say the number will likely change as some death certificates haven’t been fully processed yet.
According to statistics recently published by the American Medical Association, overall U.S. deaths increased 17 percent in 2020 with COVID-19 being the third-leading cause behind heart disease and cancer.
But the downward trend in suicides is still surprising, given that Americans have reported increased depression, anxiety, and substance use during the pandemic. Gun sales have also gone up dramatically.
Nearly a third of young gay people have attempted suicide, study finds
Coming out earlier in life is a double-edged sword, experts say.
Suicide rates among young people have been on the rise in recent years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but gay and bisexual youths are almost five times as likely to have attempted suicide as their straight peers.
And, despite advances in the fight for LGBTQ equality, a new report finds that young gay people today are even more likely to have attempted suicide than in previous generations.
Researchers at the Williams Institute, a sexual orientation and gender identity think tank at UCLA School of Law, found that 30 percent of lesbian, gay and bisexual respondents ages 18 to 25 reported at least one suicide attempt, compared to 24 percent of those 34-41 and 21 percent of those 52-59.
The study, published last month in the journal PLOS One, also revealed that these young adults are experiencing higher levels of victimization, psychological distress and internalized homophobia than older generations.
US suicides dropped last year, defying pandemic expectations
The number of U.S. suicides fell nearly 6% last year amid the coronavirus pandemic — the largest annual decline in at least four decades, according to preliminary government data.
Death certificates are still coming in and the count could rise. But officials expect a substantial decline will endure, despite worries that COVID-19 could lead to more suicides.
It is hard to say exactly why suicide deaths dropped so much, but one factor may be a phenomenon seen in the early stages of wars and national disasters, some experts suggested.
“There’s a heroism phase in every disaster period, where we’re banding together and expressing lots of messages of support that we’re in this together,” said Dr. Christine Moutier, chief medical officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. “You saw that, at least in the early months of the pandemic.”
An increase in the availability of telehealth services and other efforts to turn around the nation’s suicide problem may have also contributed, she said.
U.S. suicides steadily rose from the early 2000s until 2018, when the national suicide rate hit its highest level since 1941. The rate finally fell slightly in 2019. Experts credited increased mental health screenings and other suicide prevention efforts.
Suicidal thoughts are increasing in young kids, experts say. It began before the pandemic.
“We need to open our eyes to the fact that this is going on,” said one psychiatry professor, who found many parents do not know when their children are in crisis.
The youngsters come in with tears in their eyes, or their fists clenched in anger. Sometimes, they show no emotion at all.
“I want to kill myself,” the kids, some as young as 8, announce inside elementary school counselor Olivia Carter’s office, where affirmations such as “Think good thoughts” and “Our school is not complete without you!” adorn the walls.
When Carter started working at Jefferson Elementary in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, in 2016, there was a school suicide protocol in place to ensure that students who expressed a desire to hurt themselves got the help they needed. Her first year, she only had to use it once or twice.
Now, she says, about one student a month at her pre-K through fifth grade school tells her that they want to die.
Suicide and Self-Harm: Bereaved Families Count the Costs of Lockdowns
The psychological toll on young people of months in isolation and great global suffering is becoming more clear after successive lockdowns.
Sunny, driven and with a new engineering master’s degree in hand, Joshua Morgan was hopeful he could find a job despite the pandemic, move out of his mother’s house and begin his life.
But as lockdowns in Britain dragged on and no job emerged, the young man grew cynical and self-conscious, his sister Yasmin said. Mr. Morgan felt he could not get a public-facing job, like working at a grocery store, because his mother, Joanna, had open-heart surgery last year, and Mr. Morgan was “exceptionally careful” about her health.
He and his mother contracted the coronavirus in January, forcing them to quarantine in their small London apartment for over two weeks. Concerned by things he was saying, friends raised the alarm and referred him to mental health services.
But days before the end of his quarantine last month, Mr. Morgan, 25, took his own life. “He just sounded so deflated,” his sister said of their last conversation, adding that he said he felt imprisoned and longed to go outside.
How To Talk — And Listen — To A Teen With Mental Health Struggles
“It just is really sad to see what was supposed to be the best years of your life, like, go down the tubes.”
That’s how E., a 16-year-old who lives in Alexandria, Va., described her state of mind right now. E. is among many teenagers who have struggled during the pandemic with the loss of routines and milestones. (We’re not using her name to protect her privacy.) When school went remote last spring, she started staying up late into the night. Once a cross-country runner, she became less physically active. Her grades slipped from A’s and B’s to F’s. She lost friendships and felt lonely. She compared living with her mother to being “in solitary confinement.”
Not sleeping, failing classes, and expressing severe pain and turmoil — these are all what Dr. Khadijah Booth Watkins, a psychiatrist and associate director of The Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at Massachusetts General Hospital, calls a “loss of function.” They could be indicators of a serious mental health problem.
NPR, March 22, 2021
Professionals See Uptick In Teen Mental Health Issues Aggravated By Pandemic
Transcript: “It’s been a rough year for just about everybody – parents, business owners, medical personnel, folks in care homes. But right now, we want to talk about teenagers. This is a time of life when they should be spreading their wings, taking on more responsibility, getting more independence, maybe getting ready to leave home. But instead, for many, if not most, life has been on hold. They’ve had to stick close to home, miss sports, stop seeing friends. And now health care providers are telling us that this is taking a toll on their mental health.”
“While there isn’t a lot of hard data, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that through most of 2020, the proportion of mental health-related pediatric emergency admission was 31% higher than it was in 2019. We wanted to hear more about what the last year has been like for teens, and we wanted to talk about ways to help them through it, so we’ve called a familiar voice, NPR education correspondent Anya Kamenetz. Welcome, Anya.”
These young Americans created apps to help address mental health crisis among peers
“Campuses can’t keep up with the demand of their students.”
College campuses have seen an influx of students battling mental health disorders since the pandemic began, with about 80% saying in a Healthy Minds survey that COVID-19 had negatively affected them.
It’s a problem few schools, if any, were equipped to handle.
Founder and CEO of Grit Digital Health and the YOU at College well-being platform Joe Conrad recognizes the importance of using digital platforms to make mental health resources more accessible.
“There definitely is a mental health crisis; campuses can’t keep up with the demand of their students,” Conrad told ABC News. “I think innovation and digital support, has to be part of the solution.”
In 2016, Conrad was approached by Colorado State University after school officials saw an increase in on-campus suicides. Using a student-centered design process, Colorado State and Grit Digital Health partnered to build prototypes and asked students for feedback, which led to the creation of YOU at College.
“There are three parts to the platform–succeed, thrive and matter–but most of the resources being accessed are in ‘thrive,’ for mental and behavioral health,” Conrad explained.
How the pandemic is intensifying depression and anxiety among teenagers
Judy Woodruff: This week marks a full year since the COVID-19 outbreak was declared a pandemic. And experts are increasingly concerned about the toll it’s taking on the mental health of young people in this country.
With in person classes closed for months for many students, there also are concerns the risks of youth suicide are being exacerbated.
Stephanie Sy has this report. And a warning to underline: This story deals with sensitive subject matter. Read the Full Transcript here.
Understanding Suicidal Depression
If you experience persistent feelings of hopelessness, sadness, and helplessness, you’re not alone.
Millions of people in the United States live with depression. In fact, the National Institute of Mental Health reports that over 17 million adults experienced a major depressive episode in the previous year.
While many people learn to manage daily life with symptoms of depression, there is one that requires immediate attention — suicidal ideation. According to the Centers for Disease Control and PreventionTrusted Source (CDC), suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.
Major depression is a significant risk factor for suicideTrusted Source. However, not everyone with depression has thoughts of suicide.
If you’re experiencing depressive symptoms and suicidal thoughts, it’s important to get help. With the right interventions, depression is treatable, and suicide is preventable.
‘It’s everybody’s problem’: Goal to end youth suicide unites experts, organizations
More than 130 Americans will take their lives today. In 2019, 8.9% of high school students reported a suicide attempt in the past year.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death for individuals ages 10-24 years — representing 6,488 deaths in 2019. Yet most health care settings are not screening for this risk. Improved training is needed on early identification of suicide risk, assessment, follow-up and counseling.
Those were among recommendations at the recent Virtual Summit on Youth Suicide Prevention co-hosted by the AAP, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) and National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Participants included experts in psychiatry, education, pediatrics, family medicine, research and epidemiology. They discussed ways to identify and address suicide risk, the evidence base for suicide prevention, access to lethal means, impact of media and the value of partnerships.
A suicide prevention blueprint will be released later this year.
AAP President Lee Savio Beers, M.D., FAAP, said an AAP survey pre-pandemic found 44% of pediatricians had a patient attempt or die by suicide in the previous year. Eighty percent indicated they had lost a patient to suicide at some point in their career.
“The increasing rate of suicide among children and adolescents is an incredibly serious and growing health concern,” Dr. Beers said.
My Son Took His Own Life. Here’s Why You Should Stop Saying ‘Committed Suicide.’
“I can’t bring my son back. But as a bereaved parent, I can ask one thing of the rest of the world.”
Our 21-year-old son died by suicide in 2019, a fact I tell people as soon as I can bring it into conversation, so that they’ll understand who we are as a family and as human beings. I bring the unmentionable into the light because it’s a fact of our lives, and his, that we can’t ignore or deny. I can’t bring my son back. But as a bereaved parent, I can ask one thing of the rest of the world. I can, in fact, insist.
Don’t say committed suicide. Please say, henceforth, that a person died by suicide.
We no longer presume people with schizophrenia are possessed by demons or that the chronically depressed are cursed. But suicide as the felo de se, crime against oneself, is still the ultimate taboo, even as we staff hotlines and share social media posts to prevent it. The prohibition persists.
I came into Austin’s life when he was turning 6, when his father and I started dating. We blended our family of five children, four teen girls and a wee boy, about two years later but there were bumps along the way. Blended families are complicated, mental health is complex, and childhood traumas can develop into something bigger even with therapy and interventions.
As our boy went through his teen years, he struggled with a growing sense that adults were against him, that we did not have his back, and that there were conspiracies around him. We went through some rough years but hoped, as he turned 21, that he would grow out of it. Instead, he took his own life.
My 8-Year-Old Threatened Suicide. Here’s What We’re Learning.
When the scariest parenting moment happened, I didn’t know where to turn. After months of talking with experts, we’re on the path to healing.
On a cold Friday afternoon last fall, my 8-year-old snapped. After losing a board game to his younger sister, he reached for the wooden block of knives on the counter and pulled one out. “That’s it,” he said through clenched teeth, “I’d rather be dead than play with her.”
My heart pounded. “You don’t mean that,” I said, forcing control into my voice. When I stepped closer, his face softened. He carefully returned the bread knife to its slot, then threw his arms around my waist. “I’m sorry, Mommy.” I held him and pushed the block out of reach.
When my son is happy, he’s exuberant. The first time he held his baby sister, he cried happy tears. He loves school and behaves on play dates. But when he’s mad, he can be inconsolable. Anger pours out in torrents of “I can’t do anything right” and “This is the worst day ever.” Sometimes, he stays mad for hours.
Still, the suicide talk was new — and terrifying.
For Some Teens, It’s Been a Year of Anxiety and Trips to the E.R.
During the pandemic, suicidal thinking is up. And families find that hospitals can’t handle adolescents in crisis.When the pandemic first hit the Bay Area last spring, Ann thought that her son, a 17-year-old senior, was finally on track to finish high school. He had kicked a heavy marijuana habit and was studying in virtual classes while school was closed.
The first wave of stay-at-home orders shut down his usual routines — sports, playing music with friends. But the stability didn’t last.
“The social isolation since then, over all this time, it just got to him,” said Ann, a consultant living in suburban San Francisco. She, like the other parents in this article, asked that her last name be omitted for privacy and to protect her child. “This is a charming, funny kid, also sensitive and anxious,” she said. “He couldn’t find a job; he couldn’t really go out. And he started using marijuana again, and Xanax.”
As Social Media Time Rises, So Does Teen Girls’ Suicide Risk
As the amount of time young teenage girls spend glued to Instagram, TikTok and other social media sites goes up, so does their long-term risk for suicide, a new study warns.
The finding stems from a decade spent tracking social media habits and suicide risk among 500 teenage boys and girls, the longest such effort to date, the study authors said.
“We found that girls who started using social media at two to three hours a day or more at age 13, and then increased [that use] over time, had the highest levels of suicide risk in emerging adulthood,” said study author Sarah Coyne. She is associate director of the school of family life at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.
Among boys, however, no such pattern emerged. One reason why, Coyne’s team theorized, is that social media and young girls tend to focus on the same thing: relationships. Boys, not so much.
“We know that girls tend to feel and internalize relationship distress at different levels than boys,” said Coyne. “This type of relationship distress can – but not always – be present in social media interactions. [Girls] also have higher levels of social comparison, fear of missing out, etc. So, that is why the effects were likely stronger for girls.”
Denison ISD hosts teen suicide awareness documentary screening
Wednesday night, Denison ISD hosted a viewing of a teen suicide awareness documentary. Why educators are saying it’s important now more than ever, and when you can view the film next.
The film My Ascension is based on a true story of a Louisiana teen and her survival after attempting to take her own life. She shares her message of hope to other teens struggling with depression and anxiety; something Denison ISD educators say is perfect timing for their students in the middle of the pandemic.
“She was a cheerleader, she was a good student, but she suffered with depression and anxiety all her life, and she really didn’t know how to go about getting help,” said Special Education Counselor for Denison ISD, Jackie Melancon.
The Grant Halliburton Foundation and Newport Healthcare are sponsoring the screening of the documentary My Ascension.
“Her suicide attempt left her paralyzed and this is about her journey through that,” said Melancon.
How to Help When Adolescents Have Suicidal Thoughts
Even when rates of suicidal ideation increase, there are ways to keep kids safe.
With some evidence suggesting that more adolescents have been reporting suicidal thoughts during the pandemic, experts and parents are looking for ways to help.
One issue is that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not yet compiled and released statistics on suicide deaths, so it’s not clear whether the problem is worse than usual. But there are questions about whether suicide risks are increasing — especially in particular communities, like the Black and brown populations that have been hit hardest by the pandemic.
Even during normal times, many mental health problems tend to emerge in adolescence, and young people in this group are particularly vulnerable to social isolation. In Las Vegas, an increase in the number of student suicides during the pandemic spurred the superintendent’s recent decision to reopen schools.
“We don’t have the data to know the relationship of suicidality in children and youth and the Covid epidemic,” said Dr. Cynthia Pfeffer, a professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical Center who has worked extensively on grieving and bereavement in children and adolescents. “The tremendous stress for families might make a child feel like they need to get out, or feel depressed.”
Child Psychiatrists Warn That The Pandemic May Be Driving Up Kids’ Suicide Risk
Anthony Orr was almost done with his high school coursework when the governor of Nevada ordered a statewide shutdown of nonessential businesses on March 17, 2020.
“He was looking forward to all of the senior activities, prom and graduation,” says his mother, Pamela Orr. But all he got was a “mini [graduation] ceremony,” with only a handful of students walking, wearing masks and at a distance from each other.
“That was the most we could do because of COVID,” she says.
Anthony graduated with honors as he had planned to, wearing a white robe and cap and an advanced honors sash, says Pamela. But he decided against going to college.
“Right now … it’s all online, and you just lose the whole college experience,” she says.
Instead, he got a job working in construction. His parents thought he was doing fine. “He seemed happy to us,” says Pamela. “He seemed happy.”
But in August of last year, Anthony died by suicide.
Make Space, Listen, Offer Hope: How To Help A Child At Risk Of Suicide
It was over a decade ago when Regina Crider’s daughter first attempted suicide at age 10.
“As a mom, the thought of losing your child to suicide is overwhelming,” says Crider, who is the founder and executive director of Youth and Family Alliance, a support group for families of youth with mental illness in Rantoul, Ill.
Crider was upset and confused and felt that she had failed as a mother.
“I felt like maybe I missed the signs,” she says. “Because I work with families, why didn’t I see it?”
Her daughter survived the attempt, but the fear of losing her kicked Crider into action. “I needed to understand why and what I could do [to help her],” she says, “because I didn’t want to come home to her gone.”
We All Play a Role in Preventing Suicide
Times are especially hard for kids and families around the country right now. Here’s what we can do nationally and in Connecticut to help prevent suicide and self-harm and save lives.
In October of 2020, a stark public health warning was released by a Connecticut public health clearinghouse: youth suicides were on the rise in Connecticut and we had to act fast. Even before this recent surge, suicide was the second leading cause of death in adolescents in the United States. Compounded by the coronavirus pandemic, remote learning, social isolation, civil unrest and the economic impacts of the pandemic, our kids’ lives had been totally uprooted and many of them are struggling.
In October alone, four young teens in our state died by suicide – an extraordinary rise that required immediate action. All these issues will persist into the new year and children locally and nationally need our continued support more than ever as their lives continue to change in new and unexpected ways. Here are some ways we can help and support our kids as we continue to work through the pandemic and other challenges.
Open conversation is extremely important. It is okay to acknowledge that things are not okay. It is okay to talk about suicide and mental and emotional health with our kids. It does not make one more likely to die by suicide. Talking about suicide reduces stigma and allows individuals to seek help and consider other options.
Experts Express Concerns Over Mental Health Of Some Kids In The Pandemic
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST: A year into this pandemic, it’s clear that the disease has led to more than a physical health crisis and an economic crisis. It’s also led to a mental health crisis, especially for young people. A recent CDC report shows that hospital emergency departments are seeing a greater proportion of children and adolescents with mental health problems. And educators and child psychiatrists are concerned that more kids in emotional crises are considering suicide. NPR’s Rhitu Chatterjee reports.
RHITU CHATTERJEE, BYLINE: To understand why educators are concerned, consider Nevada’s Clark County School District. It’s had 19 students die from suicide since last March. One of those students was a senior at Shadow Ridge High School on the outskirts of Las Vegas. Colleen Neely was his counselor.
COLLEEN NEELY: He had a huge smile that would just light up his whole face, and he flashed that almost daily. And it just made my day.
CHATTERJEE: She says he was shy but smart and polite, and he’d stop by her office every day to check in. Neely says he’d gone through a period of homelessness, but he’d been doing really well lately.
NEELY: He was passing all of his classes, going to earn the highest-level diploma that we offer at our school. So he was in a really good place, you know, and this was leading right up to us being shut down.
Surge of Student Suicides Pushes Las Vegas Schools to Reopen
Firmly linking teen suicides to school closings is difficult, but rising mental health emergencies and suicide rates point to the toll the pandemic lockdown is taking.
The reminders of pandemic-driven suffering among students in Clark County, Nev., have come in droves.
Since schools shut their doors in March, an early-warning system that monitors students’ mental health episodes has sent more than 3,100 alerts to district officials, raising alarms about suicidal thoughts, possible self-harm or cries for care. By December, 18 students had taken their own lives.
The spate of student suicides in and around Las Vegas has pushed the Clark County district, the nation’s fifth largest, toward bringing students back as quickly as possible. This month, the school board gave the green light to phase in the return of some elementary school grades and groups of struggling students even as greater Las Vegas continues to post huge numbers of coronavirus cases and deaths.
Superintendents across the nation are weighing the benefit of in-person education against the cost of public health, watching teachers and staff become sick and, in some cases, die, but also seeing the psychological and academic toll that school closings are having on children nearly a year in. The risk of student suicides has quietly stirred many district leaders, leading some, like the state superintendent in Arizona, to cite that fear in public pleas to help mitigate the virus’s spread.
Will the Pandemic Result in More Suicides?
It’s too soon to know. But some recent data, especially from specific groups, is cause for worry. Even before we entered this darkest of winters, when Covid-19 is relentlessly causing more and more sickness and death — not to mention additional stress, isolation and economic pain — there was evidence suggesting that significantly more people have thought about ending their lives during the pandemic than in recent years.
In August, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the results of a nationwide survey conducted during the last week in June: More than 40 percent of those who responded reported symptoms of anxiety or depression or increased substance use, in addition to other struggles. And more than 10 percent said that they had seriously considered suicide in the past 30 days, compared with just over 4 percent who said the same thing in 2018 — and who were referring to suicidal ideation over the previous 12 months.
“We want to know, who is most at risk from suicide in the pandemic,” says Paul Nestadt, a psychiatrist at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, who was not involved in the survey. And yet, he adds, “we won’t know until it’s mostly over.” That’s because it can take a year or two for the C.D.C. to collect and analyze national mortality data.
Suicide Prevention in the Context of COVID-19
Among the innumerable negative effects linked to the coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) crisis, various risk factors for mental illness, including social isolation, unemployment, and financial difficulty, have increased drastically. People with pre-existing psychiatric illness are especially vulnerable to these circumstances, potentially compounding the impact of reported interruptions to mental health care due to the pandemic.
A wide range of public survey results have shown substantial increases in symptoms of anxiety and depression associated with COVID-19, and a poll conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation revealed that 53% of adults have experienced worsening mental health that they attribute to worry and stress regarding the pandemic. Respondents also reported a greater frequency of maladaptive behaviors and other impairments, such as disruptions in sleep and eating as well as increased alcohol and substance use.
How the pandemic is impacting college students’ mental health
College students have long been prone to stress, anxiety and depression. And three out of four Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 report poor mental health tied to the pandemic, according to the CDC. Hari Sreenivasan reports as part of our ongoing series, “Rethinking College.”
Judy Woodruff: “Finally tonight, we look at how the pandemic is affecting the mental health of college students. Students have long been prone to stress, anxiety and depression. According to the CDC, three out of four Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 report poor mental health tied to the pandemic.”
PBS News Hour, Jan. 19, 2021
‘I’ve Tried Everything’: Pandemic Worsens Child Mental Health Crisis
Sandra’s 17-year-old daughter, Lindsey, has autism. Lindsey thrives on routine, and got special help at school until the coronavirus pandemic cut her off from the trained teachers and therapists she’d come to rely on.
A bag of Doritos, that’s all Princess wanted.
Her mom calls her Princess, but her real name is Lindsey. She’s 17 and lives with her mom, Sandra, a nurse, outside of Atlanta. On May 17, 2020, a Sunday, Lindsey decided she didn’t want breakfast; she wanted Doritos. So she left home and walked to Family Dollar, taking her pants off on the way, while her mom followed on the phone with police.
Lindsey has autism (NPR isn’t using last names to protect her privacy). It can be hard for her to communicate and navigate social situations. She thrives on routine, and gets special help at school. Or got help, before the coronavirus pandemic closed schools and forced tens of millions of children home. Sandra says that’s when their living hell started.
“It’s like her brain was wired,” she says. “She’d just put on her jacket, and she’s out the door. And I’m chasing her.”
17 Deep Conversations About Mental Health We Had in 2020
2020 was difficult on us all. We struggled with indoor stir crazies, WFH burnout, and election stress and anxiety. The result? A September 2020 study found that one in four Americans struggled with depression this year, more than three times that before the pandemic.
But all along the way, Men’s Health was there to help guide you through the longest 12 months ever. Each Friday, we spoke with psychiatrists and entertainers to find out how they lived, worked, and kept sane during a difficult year. Some sought therapy, others relied on self-care apps for a mental boost. To help guide your journey to better mental health, and take on 2021 in full-force, below, a few of our favorite Friday Sessions from the past year.
Normalizing expression of emotions for men is key to suicide prevention
Talking about suicide can be difficult and uncomfortable. Christine Moutier, M.D., chief medical officer at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention talked about the stigma that surrounds men sharing emotions and how to spot someone who might be suicidal.
Three things you can do to keep your teens safe in your home
The pandemic is a stressful time for everyone, but especially for our kids.
Their exposure to the grown-up world has come fast and furious over the past nine months: a deadly outbreak; the murder of George Floyd and the protests; the divisive 2020 election; and everything else. All this while being isolated from loved ones outside their homes.
As their parents, caregivers, guardians and friends, we can be mindful of their burdens and still-growing brains. Whether our kids are feeling anxious, bored or tempted by addictive substances, our response as parents and caregivers can be the same: Start talking openly about healthy ways to manage stress, anxiety and depression.
That’s the message from the Windham County Prevention Partnership, a countywide coalition of four regional groups helping youth and young adults to make positive decisions in their lives.
Three things adults can do: Talk, Track, Secure
Leaders from two of the groups — Laura Schairbaum, director of the Greater Falls Connections in Bellows Falls, and Cindy Hayford, director of the Deerfield Valley Community Partnership in Wilmington — spoke with the Reformer recently about the partnership’s latest campaign: Talk, Track, Secure.
The campaign comes on the cusp of the holidays, in the ninth month of the global outbreak and during the national deployment of a coronavirus vaccine.