Why teen suicide and depression rates have risen

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second in a series of articles to be published in September, Suicide Prevention Month.

MANISTEE — After two and a half years of a global pandemic, many children and adolescents are returning to school for the first time. Even in non-pandemic times, going back to school could be an exciting and tumultuous time for children and teens.

The pandemic has only accelerated a youth mental health crisis that has been brewing for decades. The University of California, Davis, on its health website, said “the suicide rate among 10 to 24 year olds increased nearly 60% between 2007 and 2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC reported that suicide was the second leading cause of death among people aged 10 to 34 in 2018.”

Additionally, the Journal of the American Medical Association in a research letter found that “Georgia, Indiana, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and Virginia experienced increases in the absolute number of teenage suicides during the pandemic. These states, along with California, also had an increase in the overall proportion of teenage suicides. The letter also stated that when data was collected from 14 states that participated in the study, “the proportion of overall suicides among adolescents increased during the pandemic. No other changes from the pandemic period in adolescent outcomes did was statistically significant”.

A graph from a research letter in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows an increase in teen suicide rates in several states during the coronavirus pandemic.

Courtesy graph/Journal of American Medical Association

A local therapist in Manistee has also seen the effects of rising suicide rates and mental health issues among teens, both before the pandemic and in the last two and a half years of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Megan McLearon, licensed professional counselor at Courage to Grow Counseling, said she thinks there are several reasons teens and some young children report higher levels of mental health issues that go beyond just directly related to the pandemic.

McLearon advises teens 13 and older at Manistee and notes that changes in the speed of technology, pace of life, social media and higher academic expectations of teens have contributed to higher rates of mental illness and suicide at home.

“I think we’re kind of wired in a way that we’re not really prepared for how fast society is changing at this point,” McLearon said.

She noted that there is little escape from social pressures in the classroom and now with technology and social media, in particular, the same pressures are happening online.

“And so it can be really overwhelming and anxiety-inducing not having a barrier. … We are constantly bombarded with information and data – whether it’s social media or just the kind of (the) pace of life fast,” McLearon said.

She said the anonymity involved in social media allows for more antisocial behavior that people cannot avoid in face-to-face interactions.

“And I think (anonymity) sometimes lends itself to people being more hurtful with their interactions,” Mclearon said.

She noted that the meanness that is an integral part of social media can have a negative effect on teen mental health.

“The negative comments that (people) would make can really upset how someone thinks of themselves. I also believe that developmentally we expect a lot more academically. High school kids make academic work and face the same social pressures.”

McLearon has some advice for parents who are concerned their teen may have mental health issues and suicidal ideation.

“(Parents should be) on the lookout for some of the signs like more isolation talk, like talking about desperation or feeling like in pain or feeling like a burden,” she said.

McLearon said when parents notice conversations about suicide or see a child or teen acting in an unusual way, it’s important to ask questions.

“A lot of people get scared if I bring up suicide, like, ‘Have you ever thought about suicide?’ It’s going to love planting the seed,” she said. “And what the science says is that it actually opens the door to communication because the person realizes like, ‘Oh, this is someone who’s going to listen and care about what I’m have to say. And like, I don’t have to hide this.'”

People feeling depressed or feeling helpless can dial 988 for the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline or call the Centra Wellness Network’s 24-hour Crisis Helpline at 877-398-2013.

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