How to Prevent Suicide During Covid-19?
COVID-19 has inflicted severe damage on America’s collective mental health. Young people are particularly hard hit. While many youths find themselves on a spectrum of anxiety and depression, there is a concerning subset of young adults who are prone to self-harm. The prevalence of youthful self-harm (and self-harmful ideation) was on the rise prior to the pandemic. From 2007 to 2017, the suicide rate amongst 15-17-year-olds raised by 76%. For 10-14-year-olds, this rate increased by 300%. COVID-19 poured gasoline on this already dangerous and tragic fire.
The isolation and uncertainty forced upon the world by COVID-19 is doubly difficult for young people. Everyone knows teens like to hang out with their friends, but this exploration and searching for social connection is quite literally structured in the adolescent brain. With the rise of remote learning and social distancing, kids aren’t able to interact as they once did. Many youths’ only human contact is with their parents. If their home life is rocky (which, given the financial and emotional stressors of the pandemic on the adults, is increasingly likely) the kids are doubly at risk for feelings of hopelessness and loneliness. For those at risk of self-harm, this is a deeply toxic brew.
A further problem stems from the high number of gun sales in 2020. Gun sales doubled between March and July, compared to 2019. Gun suicide is particularly terrible. 90% of attempted gun suicides succeed, compared to only 6% of non-gun suicide attempts. For every 10% increase in a state’s level of gun ownership, we see a 25% increase in the suicide rate for 10-19-year-olds.
Even pre-pandemic (in the decade from 2008 to 2018), gun suicides amongst 15-24-year-olds increased by 51%. Even worse, gun suicides for kids ages 10-14 increased by 214%.
Given that firearms can be kept in the home, where teens are quarantined in 2020, this is incredibly concerning.
It’s common knowledge that teens are impulsive and they are no different when it comes to matters of self-harm. That’s why it is crucially important for parents and educators to watch for red flags in their children or students. If a student is making jokes about or discussing suicide, giving their possessions away, or showing signs of a long-term sadness that won’t lift, please reach out for help.
Reviewed by Dr. Beth Dunlap
Dr. Beth Dunlap, a board-certified addiction medicine and family medicine physician, is the medical director at CRC Institute, where she is responsible for overseeing all the integrated medical services at the Institute. Beth completed medical school, residency, and fellowship at Northwestern University, where she continues to serve on the faculty as a member of the Department of Family and Community Medicine. She has extensive experience in addiction medicine at all levels of care, and her clinical interests include integrated primary care and addiction medicine, harm reduction, and medication-assisted treatment.