Covid-19 & Suicide
If youre feeling alone and
struggling, you can reach out to the Crisis Text Line
Dashboard by the Center for Systems Science and
54% of behavioral
health orgnizations have closed programs
necessarily speak to how someone is feeling.
Altered Mental State
Tied to COVID-19 Mortality
COVID-19 and the Need for Action on Mental Health - 5/13/20 (17 paged PDF)
Black Boots, Gender Identity and teen Mental Health First Aid
COVID-19 Mental Health: (https://bit.ly/2XGF1Ic) The Oregon Department of Education is committed to supporting students, teachers, staff, families and communities during this time of uncertainty. Please feel free to use and distribute the resources below.
What is already known about this topic?
Communities have faced mental health challenges related to COVID-19associated morbidity, mortality, and mitigation activities.
What is added by this report?
During June 2430, 2020, U.S. adults reported considerably elevated adverse mental health conditions associated with COVID-19. Younger adults, racial/ethnic minorities, essential workers, and unpaid adult caregivers reported having experienced disproportionately worse mental health outcomes, increased substance use, and elevated suicidal ideation.
What are the implications for public health practice?
The public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic should increase intervention and prevention efforts to address associated mental health conditions. Community-level efforts, including health communication strategies, should prioritize young adults, racial/ethnic minorities, essential workers, and unpaid adult caregivers.
The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has been associated with mental health challenges related to the morbidity and mortality caused by the disease and to mitigation activities, including the impact of physical distancing and stay-at-home orders.* Symptoms of anxiety disorder and depressive disorder increased considerably in the United States during AprilJune of 2020, compared with the same period in 2019 (1,2). To assess mental health, substance use, and suicidal ideation during the pandemic, representative panel surveys were conducted among adults aged =18 years across the United States during June 2430, 2020. Overall, 40.9% of respondents reported at least one adverse mental or behavioral health condition, including symptoms of anxiety disorder or depressive disorder (30.9%), symptoms of a trauma- and stressor-related disorder (TSRD) related to the pandemic (26.3%), and having started or increased substance use to cope with stress or emotions related to COVID-19 (13.3%). The percentage of respondents who reported having seriously considered suicide in the 30 days before completing the survey (10.7%) was significantly higher among respondents aged 1824 years (25.5%), minority racial/ethnic groups (Hispanic respondents [18.6%], non-Hispanic black [black] respondents [15.1%]), self-reported unpaid caregivers for adults§ (30.7%), and essential workers¶ (21.7%). Community-level intervention and prevention efforts, including health communication strategies, designed to reach these groups could help address various mental health conditions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
During June 2430, 2020, a total of 5,412 (54.7%) of 9,896 eligible invited adults** completed web-based surveys administered by Qualtrics.§§ The Monash University Human Research Ethics Committee of Monash University (Melbourne, Australia) reviewed and approved the study protocol on human subjects research. Respondents were informed of the study purposes and provided electronic consent before commencement, and investigators received anonymized responses. Participants included 3,683 (68.1%) first-time respondents and 1,729 (31.9%) respondents who had completed a related survey during April 28, May 512, 2020, or both intervals; 1,497 (27.7%) respondents participated during all three intervals (2,3). Quota sampling and survey weighting were employed to improve cohort representativeness of the U.S. population by gender, age, and race/ethnicity.¶¶ Symptoms of anxiety disorder and depressive disorder were assessed using the four-item Patient Health Questionnaire*** (4), and symptoms of a COVID-19related TSRD were assessed using the six-item Impact of Event Scale (5). Respondents also reported whether they had started or increased substance use to cope with stress or emotions related to COVID-19 or seriously considered suicide in the 30 days preceding the survey.§§§
Analyses were stratified by gender, age, race/ethnicity, employment status, essential worker status, unpaid adult caregiver status, rural-urban residence classification,¶¶¶ whether the respondent knew someone who had positive test results for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, or who had died from COVID-19, and whether the respondent was receiving treatment for diagnosed anxiety, depression, or posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at the time of the survey. Comparisons within subgroups were evaluated using Poisson regressions with robust standard errors to calculate prevalence ratios, 95% confidence intervals (CIs), and p-values to evaluate statistical significance (a = 0.005 to account for multiple comparisons). Among the 1,497 respondents who completed all three surveys, longitudinal analyses of the odds of incidence**** of symptoms of adverse mental or behavioral health conditions by essential worker and unpaid adult caregiver status were conducted on unweighted responses using logistic regressions to calculate unadjusted and adjusted odds ratios (ORs), 95% CI, and p-values (a = 0.05). The statsmodels package in Python (version 3.7.8; Python Software Foundation) was used to conduct all analyses.
Overall, 40.9% of 5,470 respondents who completed surveys during June reported an adverse mental or behavioral health condition, including those who reported symptoms of anxiety disorder or depressive disorder (30.9%), those with TSRD symptoms related to COVID-19 (26.3%), those who reported having started or increased substance use to cope with stress or emotions related to COVID-19 (13.3%), and those who reported having seriously considered suicide in the preceding 30 days (10.7%) (Table 1). At least one adverse mental or behavioral health symptom was reported by more than one half of respondents who were aged 1824 years (74.9%) and 2544 years (51.9%), of Hispanic ethnicity (52.1%), and who held less than a high school diploma (66.2%), as well as those who were essential workers (54.0%), unpaid caregivers for adults (66.6%), and who reported treatment for diagnosed anxiety (72.7%), depression (68.8%), or PTSD (88.0%) at the time of the survey.
Prevalences of symptoms of adverse mental or behavioral health conditions varied significantly among subgroups (Table 2). Suicidal ideation was more prevalent among males than among females. Symptoms of anxiety disorder or depressive disorder, COVID-19related TSRD, initiation of or increase in substance use to cope with COVID-19associated stress, and serious suicidal ideation in the previous 30 days were most commonly reported by persons aged 1824 years; prevalence decreased progressively with age. Hispanic respondents reported higher prevalences of symptoms of anxiety disorder or depressive disorder, COVID-19related TSRD, increased substance use, and suicidal ideation than did non-Hispanic whites (whites) or non-Hispanic Asian (Asian) respondents. Black respondents reported increased substance use and past 30-day serious consideration of suicide in the previous 30 days more commonly than did white and Asian respondents. Respondents who reported treatment for diagnosed anxiety, depression, or PTSD at the time of the survey reported higher prevalences of symptoms of adverse mental and behavioral health conditions compared with those who did not. Symptoms of a COVID-19related TSRD, increased substance use, and suicidal ideation were more prevalent among employed than unemployed respondents, and among essential workers than nonessential workers. Adverse conditions also were more prevalent among unpaid caregivers for adults than among those who were not, with particularly large differences in increased substance use (32.9% versus 6.3%) and suicidal ideation (30.7% versus 3.6%) in this group.
Longitudinal analysis of responses of 1,497 persons who completed all three surveys revealed that unpaid caregivers for adults had a significantly higher odds of incidence of adverse mental health conditions compared with others (Table 3). Among those who did not report having started or increased substance use to cope with stress or emotions related to COVID-19 in May, unpaid caregivers for adults had 3.33 times the odds of reporting this behavior in June (adjusted OR 95% CI = 1.756.31; p<0.001). Similarly, among those who did not report having seriously considered suicide in the previous 30 days in May, unpaid caregivers for adults had 3.03 times the odds of reporting suicidal ideation in June (adjusted OR 95% CI = 1.207.63; p = 0.019).
Elevated levels of adverse mental health conditions, substance use, and suicidal ideation were reported by adults in the United States in June 2020. The prevalence of symptoms of anxiety disorder was approximately three times those reported in the second quarter of 2019 (25.5% versus 8.1%), and prevalence of depressive disorder was approximately four times that reported in the second quarter of 2019 (24.3% versus 6.5%) (2). However, given the methodological differences and potential unknown biases in survey designs, this analysis might not be directly comparable with data reported on anxiety and depression disorders in 2019 (2). Approximately one quarter of respondents reported symptoms of a TSRD related to the pandemic, and approximately one in 10 reported that they started or increased substance use because of COVID-19. Suicidal ideation was also elevated; approximately twice as many respondents reported serious consideration of suicide in the previous 30 days than did adults in the United States in 2018, referring to the previous 12 months (10.7% versus 4.3%) (6).
Mental health conditions are disproportionately affecting specific populations, especially young adults, Hispanic persons, black persons, essential workers, unpaid caregivers for adults, and those receiving treatment for preexisting psychiatric conditions. Unpaid caregivers for adults, many of whom are currently providing critical aid to persons at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19, had a higher incidence of adverse mental and behavioral health conditions compared with others. Although unpaid caregivers of children were not evaluated in this study, approximately 39% of unpaid caregivers for adults shared a household with children (compared with 27% of other respondents). Caregiver workload, especially in multigenerational caregivers, should be considered for future assessment of mental health, given the findings of this report and hardships potentially faced by caregivers.
The findings in this report are subject to at least four limitations. First, a diagnostic evaluation for anxiety disorder or depressive disorder was not conducted; however, clinically validated screening instruments were used to assess symptoms. Second, the trauma- and stressor-related symptoms assessed were common to multiple TSRDs, precluding distinction among them; however, the findings highlight the importance of including COVID-19specific trauma measures to gain insights into peri- and posttraumatic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic (7). Third, substance use behavior was self-reported; therefore, responses might be subject to recall, response, and social desirability biases. Finally, given that the web-based survey might not be fully representative of the United States population, findings might have limited generalizability. However, standardized quality and data inclusion screening procedures, including algorithmic analysis of click-through behavior, removal of duplicate responses and scrubbing methods for web-based panel quality were applied. Further the prevalence of symptoms of anxiety disorder and depressive disorder were largely consistent with findings from the Household Pulse Survey during June (1).
Markedly elevated prevalences of reported adverse mental and behavioral health conditions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic highlight the broad impact of the pandemic and the need to prevent and treat these conditions. Identification of populations at increased risk for psychological distress and unhealthy coping can inform policies to address health inequity, including increasing access to resources for clinical diagnoses and treatment options. Expanded use of telehealth, an effective means of delivering treatment for mental health conditions, including depression, substance use disorder, and suicidal ideation (8), might reduce COVID-19-related mental health consequences. Future studies should identify drivers of adverse mental and behavioral health during the COVID-19 pandemic and whether factors such as social isolation, absence of school structure, unemployment and other financial worries, and various forms of violence (e.g., physical, emotional, mental, or sexual abuse) serve as additional stressors. Community-level intervention and prevention efforts should include strengthening economic supports to reduce financial strain, addressing stress from experienced racial discrimination, promoting social connectedness, and supporting persons at risk for suicide (9). Communication strategies should focus on promotion of health services§§§§,¶¶¶¶,***** and culturally and linguistically tailored prevention messaging regarding practices to improve emotional well-being. Development and implementation of COVID-19specific screening instruments for early identification of COVID-19related TSRD symptoms would allow for early clinical interventions that might prevent progression from acute to chronic TSRDs. To reduce potential harms of increased substance use related to COVID-19, resources, including social support, comprehensive treatment options, and harm reduction services, are essential and should remain accessible. Periodic assessment of mental health, substance use, and suicidal ideation should evaluate the prevalence of psychological distress over time. Addressing mental health disparities and preparing support systems to mitigate mental health consequences as the pandemic evolves will continue to be needed urgently.
Disorders classified as TSRDs in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM5) include posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), acute stress disorder (ASD), and adjustment disorders (ADs), among others.
§ Unpaid adult caregiver status was self-reported. The definition of an unpaid caregiver for adults was a person who had provided unpaid care to a relative or friend aged =18 years to help them take care of themselves at any time in the last 3 months. Examples provided included helping with personal needs, household chores, health care tasks, managing a persons finances, taking them to a doctors appointment, arranging for outside services, and visiting regularly to see how they are doing.
¶ Essential worker status was self-reported. The comparison was between employed respondents (n = 3,431) who identified as essential versus nonessential. For this analysis, students who were not separately employed as essential workers were considered nonessential workers.
** A minimum age of 18 years and residence within the United States as of April 28, 2020, were required for eligibility for the longitudinal cohort to complete a survey during June 2430, 2020. Residence was reassessed during June 2430, 2020, and one respondent who had moved from the United States was excluded from the analysis. A minimum age of 18 years and residence within the United States were required for eligibility for newly recruited respondents included in the cross-sectional analysis. For both the longitudinal cohort and newly recruited respondents, respondents were required to provide informed consent before enrollment into the study. All surveys underwent data quality screening procedures including algorithmic and keystroke analysis for attention patterns, click-through behavior, duplicate responses, machine responses, and inattentiveness. Country-specific geolocation verification via IP address mapping was used to ensure respondents were from the United States. Respondents who failed an attention or speed check, along with any responses identified by the data-scrubbing algorithms, were excluded from analysis.
The surveys contained 101 items for first-time respondents and 86 items for respondents who also participated in later surveys, with the 15 additional items for first-time respondents consisting of questions on demographics. The survey instruments included a combination of individual questions, validated questionnaires, and COVID-19-specific questionnaires, which were used to assess respondent attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs related to COVID-19 and its mitigation, as well as the social and behavioral health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
§§ https://www.qualtrics.com/external icon.
¶¶ Survey weighting was implemented according to the 2010 U.S. Census with respondents who reported gender, age, and race/ethnicity. Respondents who reported a gender of Other, or who did not report race/ethnicity were assigned a weight of one.
*** Symptoms of anxiety disorder and depressive disorder were assessed via the four-item Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-4). Those who scored =3 out of 6 on the Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD-2) and Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-2) subscales were considered symptomatic for these respective disorders. This instrument was included in the April, May, and June surveys.
Symptoms of a TSRD attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic were assessed via the six-item Impact of Event Scale (IES-6) to screen for overlapping symptoms of PTSD, ASD, and ADs. For this survey, the COVID-19 pandemic was specified as the traumatic exposure to record peri- and posttraumatic symptoms associated with the range of stressors introduced by the COVID-19 pandemic. Those who scored =1.75 out of 4 were considered symptomatic. This instrument was included in the May and June surveys only.
§§§ For this survey, substance use was defined as use of alcohol, legal or illegal drugs, or prescriptions drugs that are taken in a way not recommended by your doctor. Questions regarding substance use and suicidal ideation were included in the May and June surveys only. Participants were informed that responses were deidentified and that direct support could not be provided to those who reported substance use behavior or suicidal ideation. Regarding substance use, respondents were provided the following: This survey is anonymous so we cannot provide direct support. If you would like crisis support please contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357), (also known as the Treatment Referral Routing Service) or TTY: 1-800-487-4889. This is a confidential, free, 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year, information service, in English and Spanish, for persons and family members facing mental and/or substance use disorders. Regarding suicidal ideation, respondents were provided the following: This survey is anonymous so we cannot provide direct support. If you would like crisis support please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255, or chat line) for help for themselves or others.
¶¶¶ Rural-urban classification was determined by using self-reported ZIP codes according to the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy definition of rurality. https://www.hrsa.gov/rural-health/about-us/definition/datafiles.htmlexternal icon.
**** Odds of incidence was defined as the odds of the presence of an adverse mental or behavioral health outcome reported during a later survey after previously having reported the absence of that outcome (e.g., having reported symptoms of anxiety disorder during June 2430, 2020, after not having reported symptoms of anxiety disorder during April 28, 2020).
Adjusted for gender, employment status, and essential worker status or unpaid adult caregiver status.
§§§§ Disaster Distress Helpline (https://www.samhsa.gov/disaster-preparednessexternal icon): 1-800-985-5990 (press 2 for Spanish), or text TalkWithUs for English or Hablanos for Spanish to 66746. Spanish speakers from Puerto Rico can text Hablanos to 1-787-339-2663.
¶¶¶¶ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline (also known as the Treatment Referral Routing Service) for persons and families facing mental disorders, substance use disorders, or both: https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helplineexternal icon, 1-800-662-HELP, or TTY 1-800-487-4889.
***** National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/external icon): 1-800-273-TALK for English, 1-888-628-9454 for Spanish, or Lifeline Crisis Chat (https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/external icon).
1. CDC, National Center for Health Statistics. Indicators of anxiety or depression based on reported frequency of symptoms during the last 7 days. Household Pulse Survey. Atlanta, GA: US Department of Health and Human Services, CDC, National Center for Health Statistics; 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/covid19/pulse/mental-health.htm
2. CDC, National Center for Health Statistics. Early release of selected mental health estimates based on data from the JanuaryJune 2019 National Health Interview Survey. Atlanta, GA: US Department of Health and Human Services, CDC, National Center for Health Statistics; 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhis/earlyrelease/ERmentalhealth-508.pdfpdf icon
3. Czeisler MÉ, Tynan MA, Howard ME, et al. Public attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs related to COVID-19, stay-at-home orders, nonessential business closures, and public health guidanceUnited States, New York City, and Los Angeles, May 512, 2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2020;69:7518. CrossRefexternal icon PubMedexternal icon
4. Löwe B, Wahl I, Rose M, et al. A 4-item measure of depression and anxiety: validation and standardization of the Patient Health Questionnaire-4 (PHQ-4) in the general population. J Affect Disord 2010;122:8695. CrossRefexternal icon PubMedexternal icon
5. Hosey MM, Leoutsakos JS, Li X, et al. Screening for posttraumatic stress disorder in ARDS survivors: validation of the Impact of Event Scale-6 (IES-6). Crit Care 2019;23:276. CrossRefexternal icon PubMedexternal icon
6. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Key substance use and mental health indicators in the United States: results from the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Rockville, MD: US Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; 2018. https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/cbhsq-reports/NSDUHNationalFindingsReport2018/NSDUHNationalFindingsReport2018.pdfpdf iconexternal icon
7. Horesh D, Brown AD. Traumatic stress in the age of COVID-19: call to close critical gaps and adapt to new realities. Psychol Trauma 2020;12:3315. CrossRefexternal icon PubMedexternal icon
8. Hailey D, Roine R, Ohinmaa A. The effectiveness of telemental health applications: a review. Can J Psychiatry 2008;53:76978. CrossRefexternal icon PubMedexternal icon
9. Stone D, Holland K, Bartholow B, Crosby A, Davis S, Wilkins N. Preventing suicide: a technical package of policy, programs, and practices. Atlanta, GA: US Department of Health and Human Services, CDC, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control; 2017. https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/suicideTechnicalPackage.pdfpdf icon
Abbreviations: CI = confidence
interval; COVID-19 = coronavirus disease 2019; PTSD =
posttraumatic stress disorder; TSRD = trauma- and
Key Steps to Reduce
should sound alarm about suicides amid coronavirus outbreak,
critic say - 080720
Suicides have spiked amid the coronavirus pandemic, specifically among high school students. A guest on Thursday night's edition of "The Ingraham Angle" said Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), should be sounding a louder alarm about the problem.
"It's pretty incredible because a lot of us predicted this might happen. And unfortunately, it appears that it has happened," the guest, Phil Kerpen, president of the Committee to Unleash Prosperity, said.
"Self-harm is the No. 2 cause of death among teenagers after accidents. Kills thousands a year. When you're comparing it to a virus that kills tens a year in that age bracket, even a tiny increase in the percentage is going to be a much bigger number. And we thought that might happen and that has happened.
"The insane thing to me," Kerpen continued, "is this is a big deal and the CDC is not touting it from the platform. They're not going to the White House podium. They're not going on a show like yours and saying it."
Redfield addressed to suicide issue July 14 during a Buck Institute webinar.
"We're seeing, sadly, far greater suicides now than we are deaths from COVID," Redfield said at the time. "We're seeing far greater deaths from drug overdose that are above excess that we had as background than we are seeing the deaths from COVID."
Separately, host Laura Ingraham brought up a German study that said "exposure to children may make adults less likely to contract COVID-19," noting the study wasn't peer-reviewed.
Kerpen responded: "Wouldn't that be an
unbelievable irony after all of these strikes and these
demands and all of this stuff from these teachers? If it
turns out that being around children is actually protective,
that the child had colds and other illnesses, they have
challenges to the immune system of adults that protect them
from future COVID infection?"
Years Worth of Suicide Attempts in the Last Four
Weeks: California Doctor Calls for End to Lockdown
Weve never seen numbers like this, in such a short period of time, Dr. Mike deBoisblanc, head of trauma at John Muir Medical Center, told local station ABC7. I mean, weve seen a years worth of suicide attempts in the last four weeks. He added that he thinks its time to end the state shutdown.
I think, originally, this was put in place to flatten the curve and to make sure hospitals have the resources to take care of COVID patients, he explained. We have the current resources to do that and our other community health is suffering.
Trauma nurse Kacey Hansen, who has worked at John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek for over three decades, said she had never seen so many attempts, most being young adults. I have never seen so much intentional injury . . . its upsetting.
John Muir Health said in a statement
that while there are a number of opinions on this
topic, including within our medical staff, the
organization supports the states shelter-in-place
Parents Whose Teens Consider Suicide Have No Idea
The night before, Will studied hard for a test he was supposed to take that day. He was going to get his drivers permit that weekend and get his braces off the following week. Those were big events in his life that he was preparing for, and his parents had no inkling that their popular, athletic son was contemplating suicide.
We were so stunned and so unaware that we thought someone had come in and killed him, Trautwein said of his sons death in 2010.
If you had told me that my son was unhappy, let alone suicidal, he told HuffPost, I would have told you youre absolutely nuts.
The largest study to date measuring what, if anything, parents know about their teens suicidal thoughts shows that many parents, like Trautwein, said they are completely unaware that their adolescents have thought about taking their own life.
In interviews with more than 5,000 Philadelphia-area kids ages 11 to 17 and their parents, researchers found that among the teens who reported that they had thoughts about taking their own life, 50 percent of their moms and dads said they had no idea.
Three-quarters said they had no idea their children had recurrent thoughts about death.
Previous research has also found poor agreement not just in suicidal thoughts but in things like depressive symptoms and perceptions of family functioning, said study author Jason Jones, a research scientist at PolicyLab at Childrens Hospital of Philadelphia. Theres a lot of evidence that parents are not aware.
Jones and his team were surprised to find similar disagreement in the other direction, between childrens downplayed reports of their thoughts versus what their parents saw as troubling indicators. A significant number of teenagers denied they had thought about suicide or death, even though their parents told the researchers they had.
But I think for something as straightforward as this, he continued. I mean, Have you ever thought of killing yourself? is a pretty direct question. To see the level of disagreement were seeing, its alarming.
The findings were published in the journal Pediatrics on Monday.
A Troubling Trend
Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among Americans ages 10 to 24, and it continues to rise for reasons that are not entirely clear.
Experts have identified suicide as a pressing public health crisis and suicide among young people in particular as an issue that requires a multipronged approach, bringing together health care providers, parents, schools and researchers to better understand the challenges and approaches to prevention. A 2015 national survey reported that 18 percent of high schoolers have had thoughts of suicide (the rate in the current study, which included children as young as 11, was lower, about 8 percent), and it is estimated that two-thirds of adolescents who experience suicidal thoughts dont get help.
Jones said the new research raises hard questions for health care providers, particularly pediatricians, regarding the best ways to screen for depression and suicidal thoughts among children.
For example, given that some parents said their teens considered suicide but their teens denied it, doctors might consider asking caregivers about what they see or believe might be happening, Jones said. That, however, raises practical concerns, such as how to fit that conversation into the limited window doctors typically have with patients, as well as ethical ones about how much doctors should be taking parents subjective opinions into account.
What Parents Need To Look For
Experts say that the message for parents is, perhaps, a bit more clear-cut.
My takeaway for parents is that they need to know what to look for, and then they need to know what to do with what they find, said Teri Brister, the director of information and support for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. (Brister was not involved in the study.)
We tell people, start with your childs pediatrician, she added, emphasizing that she is by no means saying that parents must start out with an understanding of how to navigate the complex mental health care system.
And parents should be talking to their children about things like depression and suicide, she added.
I see it all the time parents will read about suicide or hear about a study like this and say, Gee, thats a terrible thing. How sad for those families. But they have what I call not-my-kid syndrome, said Clark Flatt, the president of the Jason Foundation, a nonprofit that he and his family began to help prevent suicide after his younger son, Jason, killed himself in 1997.
Flatt, too, was completely surprised by his sons death, describing him as a well-liked teenager who played sports, had plenty of friends and seemed to enjoy school.
You have to look for the warning signs, Flatt said. And I dont mean you have to get up every morning and run through a checklist to see if your child is at risk for suicide. But be aware of the warning signs and the risk factors.
Those signs include notable mood swings, talking or writing about suicide and using drugs or alcohol. Having suicidal thoughts does not necessarily mean a person will take his or her own life, but it is a major risk factor for a suicide attempt. (The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline offers free, immediate support for people in distress and their loved ones.)
And ask questions, Flatt added. Tough questions sometimes. It can be a hard but meaningful way to encourage kids to open up.
This is the trouble with mental illness. Its very maskable. Its not something that shows up on tests sometimes. So we want our kids to be able to say, Hey, Im not OK, echoed Trautwein, who started the Will to Live foundation in his sons honor and wrote a book, My Living Will.
My son Will was afraid to say Im not OK because I didnt talk about these things with him, he said. He didnt want me to see him as not OK because he worried that would be disappointing to me. And that breaks my heart.
If you or someone you know needs help,
call 1-800-273-8255 for the National
Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
You can also text SOS to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support
from the Crisis Text Line. Outside the U.S., please visit
Association for Suicide Prevention
for a database of resources.
Advocates Should Include Students at the Beginning
Community coalitions are always looking to engage students in their area, but often this is transactional as opposed to collaborative. Sometimes that works out well, and the end goal is achieved (student engagement, a decrease in adverse behavior, etc.). However, this type of setup can often leave students feeling as though theyre being sold on something, rather than an ingrained aspect of it holistically.
Bringing students into the decision-making process before implementation seems like a no-brainer, but its not always the case. And study after study shows that if students are engaged and buy-in is achieved, positive results will follow. According to one study, Student engagement in community advocacy activities that addressed environmental influences of cigarette smoking resulted in significant decreases in regular smoking.
By engaging students and younger generations at the beginning, community coalitions can tap into their enthusiasm to help create a positive change both within the younger community as well as the community writ large. For example, in Omaha, Nebraska, local leaders saw a drastic increase in obesity rates for a specific part of the city. One hypothesis posited that the communitys older generation might have entrenched eating habits and would be resistant to change, so it opted to bring in the younger generation to help create the necessary infrastructure to build a sustainable approach to healthier eating.
Childhood obesity is a major concern within the United States, but its especially a concern among the Latinx community. According to Dr. Gopal Singh, In 2007, 16.4% of U.S. children were obese and 31.6% were overweight. From 2003 to 2007, obesity prevalence increased by 10% for all U.S. children but increased by 23%33% for children in low-education, low-income, and higher unemployment households. Obesity prevalence increased markedly among Hispanic children and children from single-mother households.
The study found that this lack of infrastructure was a major impediment to changing the behaviors and outcomes desired, but by engaging students and the younger generations, it created the necessary environment for success down the road. Our program generated infrastructure and materials to support the growth and institutionalization of youth advocacy as a means of increasing community readiness for addressing obesity prevention.
Students will actively take part in causes they feel personally invested in. Reaching out to younger generations and giving them a seat at the table at the beginning of community advocacy efforts goes a long way to create stronger bonds and a firm desire to succeed. Rather than relying on students and their peers to engage on the backend of these efforts, bring them into the mix and allow them to help shape what exactly those efforts will be.
Peer pressure is often viewed as a negative aspect of adolescent behavior, but it can work toward positive results, too. When students see their peers becoming part of an in-group for something there is a stronger desire to engage. That works with students playing sports, joining clubs, liking similar art, and, in some cases, taking part in advocacy work within their community.
We argue that the involvement of childrens and adolescents peer networks in prevention and intervention efforts may be critical for promoting and maintaining positive behavioral health trajectories, was how one RAND Corporation study succinctly stated.
Perhaps the most difficult aspect of bringing students into the fold at the beginning of a community advocacy project is getting them in the door, literally. How can you speak to their interests and break through the noise when theyre being pulled in multiple directions all at once? How can you get students interested in your community outreach efforts? This is where Pride Surveys can help. At Pride Surveys, weve surveyed students for decades, asking them about their challenges, goals, and environment. We go directly to the source the students themselves and find out whats really going on in their community. This data enables community advocates to better understand the problem areas students face and to better understand how to speak to those problems when attempting to get participation.
 Effects of an Advocacy Intervention to Reduce Smoking Among Teenagers. Retrieved on August 13, 2019 at https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapediatrics/article-abstract/485644
 Rising Social Inequalities in US Childhood Obesity, 20032007. Retrieved on August 20, 2019 at https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S104727970900324X
 SaludableOmaha: Development of a Youth Advocacy Initiative to Increase Community Readiness for Obesity Prevention, 20112012. Retrieved on August 17, 2019 at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3523892/.
 Influence of Peers
and Friends on Childrens and Adolescents Eating
and Activity Behaviors, Retrieved on August 23, 2019
Stress and Mental Health During COVID-19
Drops in grades and an increase in concerning behavior often correlate to student stress and mental health. A Pride Surveys led paper in Alabama examined students feeling threatened in school and how it impacted their English and math test scores. The statistics showed that as students feel more threatened, their scores drop. Students nationwide are oftentimes impacted in their schools by threats and threatening behavior and have a legitimate concern for their safety and the safety of their peers.
2018-19 National Summary Data from Pride Surveys shows that when asked the question, During the past school year have you been afraid a student might hurt you?, there was an average of 18.08% of students surveyed who answered yes. That number has increased a total of 2.6% over the past four years. Fear of being hurt is a factor in student stress that can negatively impact test scores and student mental health.
From the same data set, the question, During the past school year have you been hurt by a student who hit, slapped or kicked you? resulted in an average of 14.74% of students surveyed over five years answering yes. This follow-up question shows that many students who are threatened with violence may also be the victim of actual violence. This shows the importance of listening to students concerns when they voice them to counselors, teachers, and administrators. While this tells the story of some of the history of in-school related stress due to physical violence and threats of violence, due to COVID-19 and distance learning, a more timely concern currently is that of cyberbullying.
Data that is particularly relevant at this time relates to questions explicitly asked about being threatened or threatening someone over the phone or the internet. KidsHealth.org defines Cyberbullying as the use of technology to harass, threaten, embarrass, or target another person. By definition, it occurs among young people. Looking at data from a convenience sample of over 43,000 students over the three year period of 2016-2018, students were asked the question, During the past school year have you been threatened or embarrassed by someone using the Internet or a cell phone to post mean messages or photos of you? The resulting average over three years was a 19.93% rate of yes responses. When asked, During the past school year have you used the Internet or a cell phone to threaten or embarrass someone else by posting mean messages or photos of them?, the question generated an average of 7.43% stating yes. These numbers may well increase while students potentially remain out of school full time or part-time in the fall as we continue to track the data.
Pride Surveys works with our community coalition partners to provide the surveys and analytics for physical violence and cyberbullying so we can help them drive change in their communities and schools and reduce student stress. Schools have specific data about fights on campus (SUR data which has to be recorded), but Pride Surveys data shows what the students are reporting so schools can compare and get a better holistic picture of the school climate and students online behaviors which can be hard to track.
Parents can help combat the issues by having open conversations with their kids about what cyberbullying is and any issues they are facing. They can also help prevent problems by being active and engaged participants in their lives, knowing who their friends are, monitoring changes in grades or behavior, and establishing rules and limits about online use. Parents can also try tracking resources that meet their comfort levels, such as MSpy and The Spy Bubble, which will document the sites they visit and the types of media being shared and consumed.
The more we work together between Pride Surveys, community coalitions, and schools, the more we can help navigate situations that lead to student stress and mental health issues, whether they stem from cyberbullying or physical threats. Pride Surveys is here and available to discuss appropriate questions for student surveys, many of which we are now offering online. Contact us today to learn more.
Mental illness in children can be hard for parents to identify. As a result, many children who could benefit from treatment don't get the help they need. Understand how to recognize warning signs of mental illness in children and how you can help your child.
What is a mental illness?
Mental health is the overall wellness of how you think, regulate your feelings and behave. A mental illness, or mental health disorder, is defined as patterns or changes in thinking, feeling or behaving that cause distress or disrupt a person's ability to function.
Mental health disorders in children are generally defined as delays or disruptions in developing age-appropriate thinking, behaviors, social skills or regulation of emotions. These problems are distressing to children and disrupt their ability to function well at home, in school or in other social situations.
Barriers to treating childhood mental health disorders
It can be difficult to understand mental health disorders in children because normal childhood development is a process that involves change. Additionally, the symptoms of a disorder may differ depending on a child's age, and children may not be able to explain how they feel or why they are behaving a certain way.
Concerns about the stigma associated with mental illness, the use of medications, and the cost or logistical challenges of treatment might also prevent parents from seeking care for a child who has a suspected mental illness.
Common disorders among children
Mental health disorders in children or developmental disorders that are addressed by mental health professionals may include the following:
Anxiety disorders. Anxiety disorders in children are persistent fears, worries or anxiety that disrupt their ability to participate in play, school or typical age-appropriate social situations. Diagnoses include social anxiety, generalized anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorders.
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Compared with most children of the same age, children with ADHD have difficulty with attention, impulsive behaviors, hyperactivity or some combination of these problems.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Autism spectrum disorder is a neurological condition that appears in early childhood usually before age 3. Although the severity of ASD varies, a child with this disorder has difficulty communicating and interacting with others.
Eating disorders. Eating disorders are defined as a preoccupation with an ideal body type, disordered thinking about weight and weight loss, and unsafe eating and dieting habits. Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder can result in emotional and social dysfunction and life-threatening physical complications.
Depression and other mood disorders. Depression is persistent feelings of sadness and loss of interest that disrupt a child's ability to function in school and interact with others. Bipolar disorder results in extreme mood swings between depression and extreme emotional or behavioral highs that may be unguarded, risky or unsafe.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is prolonged emotional distress, anxiety, distressing memories, nightmares and disruptive behaviors in response to violence, abuse, injury or other traumatic events.
Schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is a disorder in perceptions and thoughts that cause a person to lose touch with reality (psychosis). Most often appearing in the late teens through the 20s, schizophrenia results in hallucinations, delusions, and disordered thinking and behaviors.
What are the warning signs of mental illness in children?
What should I do if I suspect my child has a mental health condition?
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is prolonged emotional distress, anxiety, distressing memories, nightmares and disruptive behaviors in response to violence, abuse, injury or other traumatic events.
Schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is a disorder in perceptions and thoughts that cause a person to lose touch with reality (psychosis). Most often appearing in the late teens through the 20s, schizophrenia results in hallucinations, delusions, and disordered thinking and behaviors.
What are the warning signs of mental illness in children?
What should I do if I suspect my child has a mental health condition?
If you're concerned about your child's mental health, consult your child's doctor. Describe the behaviors that concern you. Talk to your child's teacher, close friends, relatives or other caregivers to see if they've noticed changes in your child's behavior. Share this information with your child's doctor.
How do health care professionals diagnose mental illness in children?
Mental health conditions in children are diagnosed and treated based on signs and symptoms and how the condition affects a child's daily life. To make a diagnosis, your child's doctor might recommend that your child be evaluated by a specialist, such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, clinical social worker, psychiatric nurse or other mental health care professional. The evaluation might include:
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), a guide published by the American Psychiatric Association, provides criteria for making a diagnosis based on the nature, duration and impact of signs and symptoms. Another commonly used diagnostic guideline is the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) from the World Health Organization.
Diagnosing mental illness in children can take time because young children may have trouble understanding or expressing their feelings, and normal development varies. The doctor may change or refine a diagnosis over time.
How is mental illness in children treated?
Common treatment options for children who have mental health conditions include:
Psychotherapy. Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy or behavior therapy, is a way to address mental health concerns by talking with a psychologist or other mental health professional. With young children, psychotherapy may include play time or games, as well as talk about what happens while playing. During psychotherapy, children and adolescents learn how to talk about thoughts and feelings, how to respond to them, and how to learn new behaviors and coping skills.
Medication. Your child's doctor or mental health professional may recommend a medication such as a stimulant, antidepressant, anti-anxiety medication, antipsychotic or mood stabilizer as part of the treatment plan. The doctor will explain risks, side effects and benefits of drug treatments.
How can I help my child cope with mental illness?
You will play an important role in supporting your child's treatment plan. To care for yourself and your child:
No two teenagers are alike, but there are some common reasons they consider suicide.
Many teens who attempt suicide do so during an acute crisis in reaction to some conflict with peers or parents.
Such conflicts are common among teens, but those who attempt suicide are particularly reactive to them because they:
Signs of trouble
Research shows that nine out of 10 individuals who attempt suicide have a history of mental illness or substance abuse, making these extremely important risk factors.
The warning signs include:
How to help
If you notice any of these warning signs in your child, you should take these steps:
There seems to be no getting away from the current coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. Not only is social distancing and health restrictions the new norm in most parts of the world, but we are being besieged by news stories about the enormous loss of life, the dangers being faced by the most vulnerable, health care professionals and other essential personnel at risk, and the natural exhaustion we all feel wondering when it will end.
But what about the long-term consequences to our mental health? Will life go on as before when the pandemic finally passes or are we looking at permanent changes to how we live? Unfortunately, the damage may be more far-reaching than anyone realizes, especially in terms of suicide risk.
While pandemic-related suicides have already been reported in many of the hardest-hit countries, these deaths have been largely overshadowed by the high rate of fatalities linked to COVID-19. In Italy, for example, the first pandemic-related suicide occurred in March of this year when a patient suffering from bronchopneumonia jumped out of the hospital window where he was awaiting test results to see if he was infected. Since then, numerous other suicides have been reported, primarily among front-line health workers, people awaiting test results, and those who have been affected by coronavirus-related bankruptcy.
While similar cases are also being reported internationally, the risk of a pandemic-related risk in suicides remains a particular concern for the United States since it has the largest number of COVID-19 deaths in the world. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics, suicide is already the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., with a 35 percent rise in the suicide rate from 1999 to 2018. But a new article recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that we may be at the beginning of something far worse.
Titled " Suicide Mortality and Coronavirus Disease 2019 A Perfect Storm?", the article suggests that the unprecedented public health actions needed to contain the new pandemic, along with social distancing requirements, stay-at-home orders, and stress due to job loss, may well result in far more suicides in the years to come. Written by a team of mental health professionals led by Mark A. Regger of the University of Washington, the article outlines many of the economic, psychosocial, and health-associated risk factors that can be expected to increase suicide risk. These include:
Considering all the recent business closures, lost jobs, as well as a shutdown in most public events, the fear of a new economic recession, or even a depression matching that of the 1930s, seems all too real. Research studies have long demonstrated that economic downturns are often followed by increased suicides, but the uncertainty surrounding the current downturn, including the sharp drop in stock markets (and a resulting loss in retirement funds, housing foreclosures, and the question of when, or if, people can return to work), will certainly trigger more deaths in future.
Research has also shown the importance of social connections in helping people overcome depression and suicidal thoughts. While social distancing remains an important tool in containing the coronavirus threat, the resulting loss of contact with friends and family will certainly add to the emotional burden we are all experiencing. This is especially hard on retirement home residents and hospital patients who, because of health precautions, have been denied regular contact with loved ones except through phone or Skype links. Though social media has become increasingly important in helping to maintain personal contacts, the uncertainty over when distancing rules might be eased can only add to the emotional stress we are all feeling.
Loss of Community and Religious Contact
For Americans who are part of a religious, ethnic, or social community, being able to attend regular events, including religious services, can be essential in feeling connected with others. While some religious congregations have opposed social distancing rules, the closing of most religious and community centres has increased social isolation for many Americans. Given that weekly attendance at religious services has long been shown to reduce suicide risk compared to non-attenders, losing this support may make social isolation harder to bear.
Barriers to Mental Health Treatment
While hospitals and other primary care facilities continue to see clients, mental health services have not been given the same priority. As a result, people dealing with mental health crises have little choice but to wait in overcrowded hospital emergency departments to get the help they need, something that might discourage many of them from even making the effort. Though suicide hotlines and telehealth services are still be available, the wait time is much longer than usual due to increased demand. This means that people contemplating suicide often have nowhere to turn. And this includes front-line health care workers who are at the forefront of dealing with the pandemic.
Other Medical Problems
Along with these other issues, people with existing medical problems are also finding their access to health services being restricted given the surge in coronavirus cases. This means the cancellation of elective surgeries, a much longer wait in hospital emergency departments and urgent care clinics, and having to deal with symptoms such as chronic pain without significant relief. Since many people with chronic medical problems are already vulnerable to suicidal thinking, losing access to medical services can reduce their ability to cope with their issues.
Social and Medial Influences
Since the pandemic began, we have been regularly besieged with round-the -clock news coverage describing the impact of COVID-19, both nationally and internationally. Given the pessimism being conveyed by these news stories, it's hardly surprising that many people are becoming increasingly depressed and angry at the prospect of the pandemic dragging on for months. At the same time, gun sales are also surging in may parts of the country. With access to firearms being a major risk factor in suicides, the number of firearm-related suicides are expected to rise as well.
What About The Future?
Research studies looking at the effects of trauma in previous disasters, including the 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic in Hong Kong and the 2011 earthquake and nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan has shown a significant rise in suicides both during the emergency itself and in the months that followed. With the SARS epidemic in particular, most suicides involved elderly or chronically ill people who were afraid of becoming burdens to their families due to becoming infected, a concern that is already common among many COVID-19 patients.
Finding real solutions won't be easy, especially as the coronavirus pandemic drags on. Even with video conferencing and social media to help people avoid feeling isolated, enhanced suicide prevention services will still be needed along with public education to ensure that people in crisis are aware of what resources are available to them. opportunities to help prevent suicide deaths that might otherwise occur.
But research looking at past crises can also offer some hope as well. Suicide rates actually decreased following national crises such as 9/11 due to the shared support such crises often bring. Despite the pessimism seen in recent weeks due to pandemic worries and racial protests, we can still work together to prevent unnecessary deaths and plan for a better future.
Mark A. Reger, PhD1,2; Ian H. Stanley, MS1,3; Thomas E. Joiner, PhD. (2020). Suicide Mortality and Coronavirus Disease 2019A Perfect Storm? JAMA Psychiatry. Published online April 10, 2020. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2020.1060
Lennon, J. C. (2020). What lies ahead: Elevated concerns for the ongoing suicide pandemic. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy. Advance online publication.
Gender Identity and teen Mental Health First Aid
People find my boots and me intimidating sometimes, at least upon first glance. The rest of my appearance has that effect too, with my often poorly dyed hair and generally odd and mismatched thrift store-sourced wardrobe. See, when youre transgender, your identity is deeply policed. Cisgender is considered the standard, and that leads to so much judgement surrounding every decision you make as soon as you come out as trans.
When I was young, I had no idea what made me different, only that I felt wrong in my body in a way no one else seemed to. I hadnt heard of the term transgender until I came across it online, and suddenly a lot of the self-loathing Id been experiencing started to make sense. There are not a lot of positive narratives about transgender people. Upon understanding my identity, I also saw that cis people felt it was something I should be ashamed of. Self-harm became an outlet for some of that embarrassment and hatred toward my body. I often felt as if it would be easier for everyone else if I wasnt there, because I knew I sparked confusion and fear in my classmates, parents and strangers alike just by existing.
I internalized the expectation that the goal of trans people must be to appear as cisgender as possible, so even with varying degrees of love and acceptance around me, I succumbed to the societal pressure on trans people to hate ourselves for just being who we are. Later, I was hospitalized for suicidal ideation, then released, then sent back, then sent to a longer-term residential program in Los Angeles. Hospital staff had a hard time knowing what to do with me, because I was transgender. Housing, bathrooms, groupings our binary system is created to discount and disregard trans people. Im a lucky one, too: I had the privilege to afford mental health services that wouldnt try to change me, and I never had to deal with the compounding hatred and bias that trans people of color face. Still, it was so isolating and embarrassing and painful to feel like a burden for just being who I was.
However, in my time in hospital, I also first experienced real, meaningful acceptance, and it came from the other patients. Mental illness, like being trans, is often feared and deeply misunderstood. People who are not forced to confront the reality of it in their own lives shy away from the topic because it makes them uncomfortable. Mentally ill people are told that mental illness is wrong, that it warrants hate and shame. So while I still did not know another transgender person, I met people who saw the power of shame and countered it with an active effort toward acceptance and away from judgement.
Ive come a long, long way since coming out.
Now Im going into my senior year in high school, and I understand that my identity is not a problem, that the people who are resistant to change because theyre accustomed to a flawed binary worldview are the problem. The confusion and fear that people might feel when they see me black boots and dyed hair, transgender, mentally ill and proud is not a reason for me to hide who I am, but incentive to be even prouder. I get to use my experiences and my identity to educate others and show them why their behavior unknowingly perpetuates transphobia and stigma.
I contribute to this movement through activism and advocacy, whether its getting gender neutral bathrooms at my school, helping the school redo the whole system of gender-divided overnight trips, organizing teens to run mental health education initiatives in my community, or educating myself about the experiences of other people Black, and Indigenous and people of color, immigrants, the disability community and anyone else who faces the brunt of societys ignorance and erasure.
I work to show how the systems and standards we have in place for gender and mental health are inherently broken, that we should not bend the system to accommodate for the few that dont fit but instead rewrite the whole program so that every person fits, equally and unequivocally. This is what teen Mental Health First Aid helps to do, and why I believe in its mission so much: Kids can help educate each other so that we can help support each other. No one will be left behind.
Learn more about teen Mental Health First Aid and how you can bring the program to a school or youth-serving organization near you.
Novak, a rising senior in California,
spends much of his time studying science, advocating for
social justice, and playing with his cat. He works with
Safespace, a local mental health organization, and engages
in activism in many other areas, including LGBT issues,
environmentalism, racial justice, and wealth inequity. When
not doing school work or advocacy work, he enjoys traveling,
changing his hair color, and tending to his vegetable
No two teenagers are alike, but there are some common reasons they consider suicide.
Many teens who attempt suicide do so during an acute crisis in reaction to some conflict with peers or parents.
Such conflicts are common among teens, but those who attempt suicide are particularly reactive to them because they:
Signs of trouble
Research shows that nine out of 10 individuals who attempt suicide have a history of mental illness or substance abuse, making these extremely important risk factors.
The warning signs include:
How to help
If you notice any of these warning signs in your child, you should take these steps:
Five Tips to Help
Teens Cope with Stress
High school teens spend most of their time attending classes, participating in extracurricular activities and doing homework. There is constant pressure to do everything and do it well to prepare for a successful career or higher education after high school. This can cause a lot of stress.
When they do have time, research from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that teens most often turn to media and communications activities, including watching TV, using social media and the internet and calling or texting friends. Although these can be helpful ways to relieve stress, the excessive use of technology can lead to lack of human connection and feelings of loneliness.
Use these tips to take a break from the barrage of constant communication and manage your stress in a healthy way.
Get some sleep.
Getting enough sleep helps you grow and develop normally, pay attention throughout the day and maintain overall health. For teens, this means about 8-10 hours each night.
Focus on your strengths.
Take some time to think about what youre good at and ways to do more of those things. By focusing on and building your strengths, you can keep your stressors in perspective.
Do things that make you happy.
Find activities or hobbies that make you happy and incorporate them into your daily life. This might be a physical sport, an artistic outlet or spending time with family and friends.
Engage in physical activity.
Exercise takes our mind off stress and releases chemicals in our brain that make us feel better. This can be anything from a stroll in the park to a bike ride or basketball game with friends.
Talk to someone.
It can be hard to manage stress alone. Talk to a parent, teacher or other trusted adult about your problems and they may be able to help you find new ways to manage your stress.
If youre still looking for ways
to manage your stress, take a Mental Health First Aid course
today. teen Mental Health First Aid (tMHFA) teaches high
school students about common mental health challenges and
what they can do to support their own mental health and help
their friends who may be struggling. Right now, eight high
schools across the country have trained students in tMHFA.
Were looking forward to expanding to more schools
across the country in the coming years. Learn more about
this new program, run by the National Council and supported
by Lady Gagas Born This Way Foundation.
Headline issues, from immigration to sexual assault, are causing significant stress among members of Generation Z those between ages 15 and 21 with mass shootings topping the list of stressful current events, according to the American Psychological Associations report Stress in America: Generation Z released today.
Despite these concerns, Gen Z adults who are 18 to 21 years old are the generation least likely to vote in the 2018 midterm elections, the report found.
Specifically, 75 percent of Gen Z members said that mass shootings are a significant source of stress, according to the survey, which was conducted online by The Harris Poll on behalf of APA in July and August 2018 among 3,458 adults and 300 15- to 17-year-olds.
Gen Z members are also more stressed than adults overall about other issues in the news, such as the separation and deportation of immigrant and migrant families (57 percent of Gen Z vs. 45 percent of all adults reported the issue is a significant source of stress) and sexual harassment and assault reports (53 percent vs. 39 percent). Despite this, just more than half of Gen Z adults, between ages 18 and 21, (54 percent) said they intend to vote in the U.S. midterm elections, compared with 70 percent of adults overall.
Americas youngest generation is also significantly more likely (27 percent) than other generations, including Millennials (15 percent) and Gen Xers (13 percent), to report their mental health as fair or poor, the survey found. They are also more likely (37 percent), along with Millennials (35 percent), to report they have received treatment or therapy from a mental health professional, compared with 26 percent of Gen Xers, 22 percent of baby boomers and 15 percent of older adults.
Current events are clearly stressful for everyone in the country, but young people are really feeling the impact of issues in the news, particularly those issues that may feel beyond their control, said Arthur C. Evans Jr., PhD, APAs chief executive officer. At the same time, the high percentage of Gen Z reporting fair or poor mental health could be an indicator that they are more aware of and accepting of mental health issues. Their openness to mental health topics represents an opportunity to start discussions about managing their stress, no matter the cause.
More than nine in 10 Gen Z adults (91 percent) said they have experienced at least one physical or emotional symptom because of stress, such as feeling depressed or sad (58 percent) or lacking interest, motivation or energy (55 percent). Only half of all Gen Zs feel like they do enough to manage their stress.
Money and work continued to top the list of significant stressors tracked annually by the Stress in America survey for adults overall. Nearly two-thirds of adults (64 percent) reported money and work each to be a stressor. A new question added this year asking about additional sources of stress revealed that for more than three in 10 Gen Zs, personal debt (33 percent) and housing instability (31 percent) were a significant source of stress, while nearly three in 10 (28 percent) cited hunger or getting enough to eat.
One notable finding was a potential increased tolerance for stress across all generations. The average perceived healthy level of stress increased significantly over the past year, from 3.7 in 2017 to 3.9 in 2018 (on a scale from 1 to 10, where 1 is little or no stress and 10 is a great deal of stress).
Americans increasingly stressed about the future of the nation
More than 6 in 10 Americans (62 percent) reported that the current political climate is a significant stressor, and more than two-thirds (69 percent) reported that the nations future causes them stress. This was a significant increase from those who said the same in 2017 (63 percent). Most Americans (61 percent) also disagreed that the country is on a path to being stronger than ever. Because of their concern for the state of the nation, nearly half of Americans (45 percent) said they feel more compelled to volunteer or support causes they value.
Another key finding was that nearly one-quarter (24 percent) of adults identified discrimination as a significant source of stress, the highest percentage since this was first included in the survey in 2015. In 2018, black adults (46 percent) and Hispanic adults (36 percent) reported discrimination as a significant source of stress, compared with 14 percent of white adults.
To read the full Stress in America report or to download graphics, visit the Stress in America Press Room webpage.
For additional information on stress, lifestyle and behavior changes, visit the Psychology Help Center webpage. Join the conversation about stress on Twitter by following @APA and #stressAPA.
The 2018 Stress in America survey was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll on behalf of the American Psychological Association between July 27 and Aug. 28, 2018, among 3,458 adults ages 18 and older who reside in the U.S. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. In addition to the main samples, interviews among teens ages 15 to 17 (n=300) were collected. Data were weighted to reflect their proportions in the population based on the 2017 Current Population Survey by the U.S. Census Bureau. Weighting variables for the adults ages 18+ included education, age by gender, race/ethnicity, geographical region, household income and time spent online. Hispanic adults were also weighted for acculturation, taking into account respondents household language as well as their ability to read and speak English and Spanish. Country of origin (U.S./non-U.S.) was also included for Hispanic and Asian subgroups. Propensity score weighting was used for the adults to adjust for respondents propensity to be online. A propensity score allows researchers to adjust for attitudinal and behavioral differences between those who are online versus those who are not, those who join online panels versus those who do not, and those who responded to this survey versus those who did not. Weighting variables for the teens ages 15 to 17 included parents education, age by gender, race/ethnicity, region and size of household. Weighting variables for the Gen Z groups (ages 15 to 21) included education, age by gender, race/ethnicity, region, household income, size of household and employment status. Because the sample is based on those who were invited and agreed to participate in online research panels, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.
The American Psychological
Association, in Washington, D.C., is the largest scientific
and professional organization representing psychology in the
United States. APA's membership includes nearly 115,700
researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and
students. Through its divisions in 54 subfields of
psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and
Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance the
creation, communication and application of psychological
knowledge to benefit society and improve people's lives.
A Mental Health
Crisis Guide for Schools
Those who struggle to manage mental health may suffer from a mental illness. A mental illness is a common health condition that involves changes in emotions, thought patterns, and behavior. In fact:
Even though its more common in adults, children can develop mental health issues too. Mental health conditions that also affect children and young adults include:
Anxiety disorders: Examples of anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder (social phobia), specific phobias, and separation anxiety disorder. It is possible to have more than one anxiety disorder, and some may require medical treatment.
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): Adult attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a mental health disorder that includes a combination of persistent problems, such as difficulty paying attention, hyperactivity, and impulsive behavior. Though its called adult ADHD, symptoms start in early childhood and continue into adulthood.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD): Autism spectrum disorder is a condition related to brain development that impacts how a person perceives and socializes with others, causing problems in social interaction and communication. The disorder also includes limited and repetitive patterns of behavior. The term spectrum in autism spectrum disorder refers to the wide range of symptoms and severity.
Eating disorders: Eating disorders are serious conditions related to persistent eating behaviors that negatively impact your health, emotions, and ability to function in important areas of life. The most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder.
Mood disorders: If you have a mood disorder, your general emotional state or mood is distorted or inconsistent with your circumstances and interferes with your ability to function. You may be extremely sad, empty, or irritable (depressed), or you may have periods of depression alternating with being excessively happy (mania).
Schizophrenia: Schizophrenia involves a range of problems with thinking (cognitive), behavior, or emotions. It may result in some combination of hallucinations, delusions, and disordered thinking and behavior that impairs your childs ability to function. Childhood schizophrenia is essentially the same as schizophrenia in adults, but it occurs early in life and has a profound impact on a childs behavior and development. With childhood schizophrenia, the early age of onset presents special challenges for diagnosis, treatment, education, and emotional and social development.
What Is a Mental Health Crisis?
A mental health crisis (33 page PDF) is any situation in which a persons behavior puts them at risk of hurting themselves or others and/or prevents them from being able to care for themselves or function effectively in the community. Often, a crisis can involve thoughts of suicide for both adults and children.
Lets look at data and statistics on childrens mental health.
While mental health crises are a major threat to public health and can become fatal, clinical professionals are not always the ones on the front lines of intervening in or preventing such crises. Physicians and nurses sometimes are not aware that a patient is vulnerable to a sudden escalation in mental illness, or even that a mental illness is afflicting their patients. This is a major reason why non-clinical professionals with a background in an area such as\general healthcare studies are needed. These individuals are able to help educate the public, develop novel intervention strategies outside of hospitals, and help ensure vulnerable individuals dont fall through the gaps in a moment of crisis.
However, there is a need for everyone not just healthcare professionals to understand the risk factors, warning signs, and interventions that can help others survive a mental health crisis episode.
Warning Signs of Crisis Episode
Signs of a mental health crisis episode may not always be apparent in a child. With the proper education, teachers, principals, and other staff members will know what to look for when the following mental health crisis signs arise.
Abusive behavior: Often an individual will show abusive behavior to themselves and others. This may include self-harm, substance abuse, physical abuse, etc.
Inability to perform daily tasks: This can include even the most simple tasks such as bathing, teeth brushing, brushing hair, and putting on clean clothes.
Increased agitation: When a child shows signs of increased agitation theyll use verbal threats, are violently out of control, destroy property, and more.
Isolation: Children and young adults tend to isolate themselves in school and work, from both family and friends.
Loses touch with reality (psychosis): This encompasses the inability to recognize family or friends showing signs of confusion, strange ideas, thinking theyre someone theyre not, not understanding what people are saying, hearing voices, and seeing things that arent there.
Paranoia: This is manifested in suspicion and mistrust of people or their actions without evidence or justification.
Rapid mood swings: This includes increased energy levels, the inability to stay still, pacing, sudden depression and withdrawal, as well as becoming suddenly happy or calm after a period of depression.
Other warning signs and risk factors include:
Suicide Warning Signs
Suicide in teens can be prevented if those around them learn to recognize the warning signs and intervene appropriately:
Its important to take any talk of suicide seriously. Suicide is a very difficult topic to discuss, says Jeffrey Borenstein, M.D., an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in an article about the importance of speaking out about suicide. But silence can have tragic results, and knowledge can save lives. The message that things can get better is more important today than ever before.
Examples of Triggers for a Crisis Episode
Crisis episode triggers are external events or circumstances that may produce very uncomfortable emotional or psychiatric symptoms, such as anxiety, panic, discouragement, despair, or negative self-talk.
Those with a mental illness typically handle triggers differently than other people. According to author Arlin Cuncic writing for Very Well Mind, from a mental health perspective, being triggered more narrowly refers to the experience of people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) re-experiencing symptoms of a traumatic event (such as exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violation) after being exposed to a trigger that is a catalyst or reminder.
There are both internal and external triggers that can remind a person of a past traumatic event.
Being aware of someones personal triggers is especially helpful because it allows others to recognize sensitive situations, provide an adequate warning to those who may be triggered, and take other steps to prevent known triggers from leading to a crisis situation.
How to Prevent a Mental Health Crisis
Fortunately, mental health crises can be prevented. As such, how teachers, parents, and peers respond to a childs mental health crisis is crucial. How an authoritative figure should speak to one suffering from a mental illness crisis varies based on their relationship to them.
Family members and friends: If a family member or friend is showing signs of a mental health crisis, you can help to prevent the situation from occurring/worsening by:
Students: When assisting a student who is showing signs of a mental health crisis, educators should:
Your child/other dependents: Its important for caregivers to pay special attention to their children, especially after the loss of a loved one, separation of parents, and/or any other major transition. This is because children typically have a hard time understanding difficult situations. However, if you are concerned your child is on the verge of a mental health crisis you should:
Communication Tips and Talking Points
Starting a conversation about mental health can be uncomfortable, no matter how necessary. Here are a few tips for parents and educators for talking to children about their mental health.
Seek Help from a Professional
Mental illness can be treated. Here is a list of medical professionals one can utilize when seeking treatment for mental illness.
Addiction counselor: Addiction counselors treat people with addictions. While this usually involves substance abuse or gambling problems, it can also include less common addictions such as sexual addictions or hoarding.
Art therapist: Art therapy involves using creativity in ways like painting, sculpture, and writing to explore and help with depression, medical illnesses, past traumatic events, and addiction.
Family and marriage counselor: A family and marriage counselor specializes in common problems that can come up in families and married couples, from differences to arguments.
Mental health counselor: Mental health counselor is a broad term used to describe someone who provides counseling. Their titles may also include the terms licensed or professional. Its important to ask about a counselors education, experience, and the types of services involved since the term is vague. Counselors can specialize in fields like job stress, addiction, marriages, families, and general stress.
Psychologist: Psychologists specialize in the science of behaviors, emotions, and thoughts. They work in places like private offices, hospitals, or schools. Psychologists treat a range of issues, from relationship problems to mental illnesses, through counseling. A psychologist usually holds a doctoral degree, such as a Ph.D. Psychologists cannot prescribe medications in most states.
Psychiatrist: Psychiatrists mainly diagnose, treat, and help prevent mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders. They use psychiatric medicine, physical exams, and lab tests. Psychiatrists specialties can include children and adolescents, forensic psychiatry, and learning disabilities.
Psychoanalyst: A psychoanalyst follows the theories and practice of Sigmund Freud by helping someone explore their repressed or unconscious impulses, anxieties, and internal conflicts. This is done through techniques like free association, dream interpretation, analysis of resistance, and transference. However, it is important to be cautious in selecting a psychoanalyst. The title and credential are not protected by federal or state law, which means that anyone can call themselves a psychoanalyst and advertise their services.
Psychiatric nurse: Psychiatric nurses are registered nurses who specialize in mental health. Theyre known for their therapeutic relationships with the people who seek their help.
Psychotherapist: Psychotherapist is a general term for many types of mental health professionals. This can include psychologists and therapists. These professionals all provide psychotherapy a type of talk therapy designed to improve your mental health and general well-being.
Religious counselor: Religious counselors are trained to help people with a variety of problems, including crises of faith, marriage and family counseling, and emotional and mental problems.
Social worker: Social workers are public or private employees dedicated to helping people cope with and solve issues in their lives, including personal problems and disabilities. They may also address social problems like substance abuse, housing, and unemployment. They are often involved in family disputes that involve domestic violence or child abuse.
Its important to provide loved ones with support when theyre suffering from a mental crisis. This ensures that they are not alone in the process and minimizes the damage that may come along with mental illness. Here is how you can help a loved one with a mental illness:
Immediate Crisis Response and Emergency Intervention
Crisis response refers to all the advance planning and actions taken to address natural and man-made disasters, crises, critical incidents, and tragic events. Of course, in an emergency, you should always call 911. However, in some cases, having a crisis response and intervention plan can be helpful as well.
Crisis intervention is beneficial because it can mitigate adverse reactions, facilitate coping and planning, assist in identifying and accessing available support, normalize reactions to the crisis, and assess capacities and need for further support or referral to the next level of care.
The three main goals of crisis intervention are:
In regards to a suicidal crisis on school grounds, some key principles to remember are:
Parents and teachers can help prevent mental health crises by helping adolescents and teens develop emotional intelligence and healthy coping skills.
Assess the Situation
Before making any rash decisions, assess the situation and ask yourself: Is the person in danger to themselves or others? Is emergency assistance needed? Can I call someone for guidance? Are there resources to help me and the person at risk? What triggered the crisis? Am I capable of handling this on my own?
It is important to assess the situation because the person you are trying to help may not be able to communicate clearly. If youre able to figure out what is going on using your own assessment of the scenario, you may find it easier to help control the moment.
Emergency Resources and Suicide Prevention Hotlines
Always call 911 in an active emergency situation, especially if someone is trying to harm themselves or others, or is threatening to. Additional help is also available 24/7 via specialized emergency hotlines. Here is a sample list of national hotlines you can call, text, or online chat when in distress:
Crisis and Suicide
Domestic Violence, Rape and Sexual Assault
Techniques to De-Escalate a Crisis
Here are 10 tips on de-escalating a crisis. Remember, only do this on your own if you feel comfortable doing so. If not, emergency personnel should be called immediately.
The Importance of Mental Health Awareness
To implement preventive measures, we need to deconstruct the stigma associated with mental illness. This will help make communicating about the topic feel more natural and help students realize it is OK to talk about it and they arent alone. Having the proper mental health resources for students ready is just one of the many ways we can take away the stigma and show the importance of mental health awareness.
Mental health awareness is important because with awareness comes more support and care for those who are in need. When the public is educated on everything there is to know about mental health and mental illnesses, it becomes more likely that these topics become less taboo and negative. Mental health can be just as important if not even more so as physical health. This is because it can be hard to maintain your physical health without a healthy mental capacity.
Dealing with Grief
Its not uncommon to show signs of grief after losing a loved one, decline in health, death of a pet, a miscarriage, divorce, and more. Grief is the emotional suffering you feel when something or someone you love is taken away. If you are not able to handle grief on your own, its important to know that you dont have to reach out to a parent, teacher, or mental health professional right away.
There are five stages of grief:
To experience these feelings after any emotionally heavy life event is normal. Luckily there are ways to cope with grief:
Mental Health and Self-Care
Investing in self-care enriches coping skills, energy level, sense of well-being, and the ability to create balance. Applying different self-care techniques like skin and hair care, reading, baths, meditation, etc. into your daily routine is beneficial because it allows the mind and body to work together for overall wellness.
Prolonged amounts of stress caused by mental illness can weaken the immune system. This can also lead to more serious health issues such as heart disease, obesity, diabetes, strokes, and high blood pressure. Symptoms of elevated stress levels include but are not limited to:
We may not be able to control the stressors of life, but we can control how we react to them. Self-care allows us to do so in a way that is beneficial to our overall well being.
Resources for Mental Illness
In case of an immediate emergency (such as suicidal thoughts, potential to harm yourself or others, or any other life-threatening scenarios) you should always call 911. However, there are other mental health resources that can be utilized for those who need both short-term and long-term solutions:
Support for Schools
Mental health may be an underfunded educational staple for some schools. Luckily there are ways that teachers backed by the support of lawmakers and principals can provide support for their students. This can include:
Mental Health Facilities and Government Agencies
Here is a list of mental health facilities and agencies that can help:
Its important to always remember if you have a mental illness or are on the verge of a mental crisis, you are not alone. With proper education techniques and the right resources, teachers, parents, and other authority figures will be able to properly care for our youths mental health, especially in times of crisis.
Scariest Coronavirus Death Toll May Not Come from
The link between unemployment and suicides will be a concern that has to be addressed while the majority of the population stays-in to duck the coronavirus pandemic.
Many people will die because of coronavirus, but drastic containment strategies in many countries may leave even more dead. Alarmingly, the death toll from a now imminent coronavirus recession could be much higher than that from COVID-19.
The radically broad coronavirus containment response has included:
The wholesale lockdown of so much of the economy has created such a great financial loss, disruption, and panic that job layoffs have skyrocketed. Years of record low unemployment rates are about to end abruptly and dramatically.
The Next Unemployment Report Will Be Brutal
Reports from businesses and local officials across the country portend a wave of coronavirus unemployment cases unseen since the Great Recession.
While unemployment applications in Ohio increased sevenfold this week to 45,000, filings jumped twelvefold in New Jersey to 15,000 on Monday. Over the weekend Connecticut unemployment cases surged eightfold to 8,000. Rhode Island had 10 unemployment claims on March 11 and 6,282 on March 16.
An NPR/Marist poll conducted over the weekend found 1 in 5 households have already reported someone being laid off or having their hours reduced because of the response to coronavirus. Those earning under $50,000 were hit harder, with 1 in 4 households affected by coronavirus layoffs. Josh Bivens, research director at the Center Left Economic Policy Institute estimates 3 million jobs will be gone by summer.
On Wednesday Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin denied reports by multiple outlets that he told GOP lawmakers that unemployment could rise as high as 20% if they failed to pass a coronavirus relief package.
Recession Is Deadlier Than Coronavirus
So far COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus has been a factor in over 8,000 deaths globally. But the Great Recession claimed far more lives. A study by researchers at Imperial College London linked 500,000 cancer deaths to the Great Recession. They found unemployment and health care cuts lead to these half a million tragedies.
A prolonged recession period has seen a spike in suicides, multiple studies have suggested.
A study by University of Oxford researchers found 10,000 suicides tied to the Great Recession. That was in the US, Canada, and Europe alone.
There is a robust scientific literature on the link between unemployment and higher suicide rates. Researchers at the University of Otago found labor force status is a strong predictor of suicide death. The paper says unemployment is strongly associated with suicide death among 1824 year old men.
A University of Technology, Taiwan study found recessions increase the suicide rate among older age groups. Meanwhile, expansions decrease the suicide rate among younger and middle age groups:
An economic recession (in terms of an increase in unemployment rate) is more likely to increase the suicide rate among an old age group (5564 years old) than among other age groups, while an economic expansion (in terms of a decrease in unemployment rate) is more likely to reduce the suicide rate of young (1524 and 2534 years old) and middle age groups (3544 and 4554 years old) than their counterpart.
Another study by researchers at McMaster University and Seoul National University linked even unstable employment to higher suicide rates, concluding:
Unstable employment had a significant impact on suicide among people aged 2534.
Therefore, its plausible that
more people will die amid the recession precipitated by the
radically broad coronavirus containment response than from
demands social distancing. Will that lead to more deaths of
despair? | Q&A
In a groundbreaking 2017 paper, Deaton and fellow Princeton economics professor Anne Case explored the trends behind the life expectancy decline. They found that middle-aged white Americans are dying in increasing rates from suicide, drug overdose, and alcohol-related liver disease, and labeled these deaths of despair. In their new book Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism, Case and Deaton explore the root causes and find that the trend reflects structural problems in the American economy. Decades of stagnant wages, decimated unions, outsourced labor, and the decreasing social and economic value of a high school diploma contribute to a sense of isolation and generate pain.
Case and Deaton talked to The Inquirer about deaths of despair, and the potential impact on Americas despair crisis from the coronavirus and the social distancing measures it requires. Responses were edited lightly for clarity and length.
Case: Current economic conditions cant explain this. It might not just be the loss of a paycheck or that you cant get as good a job as the one you lost, but that without a good job, you cant get married or have a stable home life, your community is falling apart, your sense of connection with other people is gone.
The return on having gone to college has skyrocketed, while simultaneously the wages of people who did not go to college started to decline.
[Looking at the opioid crisis] we think that the scourge of oxycodone just being handed out in jelly jars it would have been a serious problem, but the fact that they were falling into a community that was looking for a way to numb itself made the drug epidemic much, much worse.
Deaton: I grew up in Scotland, we were not very well off. For ordinary people, people who are not very well-educated, getting a job with a large company was just a wonderful thing. Even if it was really menial, like sweeping the floors or working in the mailroom, or guarding the door you belong to this thing that mattered. And you might have a lifetime career there.
What happens to belonging and despair in a time, like now, that requires social distancing and poses a new health threat?
Deaton: A lot of people are going to be socially isolated. Things that were important for them, like sports games, which feed a sense of solidarity, are going to go away. So it would not be an unreasonable prediction that suicide rates and drinking and drug overdose would go up during this pandemic. The big question, of course, is how long people will put up with that.
Case: Deaths of despair were rising before the Great Recession, during it, and after it was over. There is a structural problem that wont go away anytime soon. Even had there been no COVID-19 epidemic, we would have anticipated that about 150,000 Americans would die from suicide, drug overdose, and alcoholism in 2020. The problem will be there after this epidemic sweeps through. How much the epidemic adds to that total is unclear.
The mortality rate from suicide, drug overdose, and alcoholic liver disease mortality in Kentucky by educational attainment, for white non-Hispanics age 45-54 who have a bachelor's degree compared to those who don't. From Death of Despair and the Future of Capitalism by Anne Case and Angus Deaton.
Deaton: Lets say the best case
comes, President Trumps hopes are validated, and when
it gets warm, the virus goes away. Were pretty sure
that wont happen, but lets say it did. Then we
have a short sharp recession and a big bounce back, with a
lot of deaths from COVID. Deaths of despair will go on. For
COVID, the best case is its a one-time event, like the
great flu pandemic [of 1918 that was] gone by 1920.
So that would be the best case. The worst case is [that
COVID-19 is] gone eventually but leaves behind
devastation to the economy. And that will add to the
distress of the people were writing about, so the
deaths of despair will go on.
Concerned About Heightened Suicide Risk During
One of those experts is Dr. J.P. Jameson, a practicing psychologist and professor at Appalachian State University, who studies suicide.
There is some concern about isolation, he said. We know social connectedness is a protective factor against suicide risk, so this presents an extra layer of challenges to mental health providers and to the general public.
Millions of Americans are staying home and away from others to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Doctors and researchers agree this is a necessary step. But theyre also concerned about what this isolation could do to those already at greater risk for suicide.
Increased demand for firearms in response to the pandemic adds to this worry for professionals.
Firearms are by far the most common means of completing suicide in America, partly because they are so lethal. More than 50% of suicides are committed with a firearm. They also account for 60% of gun deaths in America.
Dr. Jameson has researched the relationship between firearms and suicide. Hes also a gun owner and said its vital to have frank conversations about firearms with family members who may be at-risk for self-harm.
Certainly, when were introducing something like a firearm into a situation where we have risk factors for suicide, thats always cause for concern, he said.
Less Likely To Seek Help
Compounding that problem, people who are more likely to own guns older, white men are more likely to complete suicide. They are also less likely to seek help, according to Dr. Michael Anestis, a professor of psychology at the University of Southern Mississippi.
The folks who tend to die by suicide using a firearm tend to be parts of groups males, older adults, service members, who will often avoid the mental health care system altogether, he said. Or if they use the healthcare system will under-report their thoughts of suicides.
Anestis stresses that its not that guns themselves have a mental health effect on people.
Most gun owners arent suicidal and owning a gun doesnt make you suicidal, he said.
But he says there are steps people should take for themselves and their loved ones, if they think they are at-risk, to keep distance between firearms and at-risk people in a vulnerable state.
That means safe storage of firearms or even better yet, storing them legally and temporarily away from home so that when folks are feeling more isolated, maybe more at-risk and less able to access care, its also just harder for them to act on those suicidal thoughts, he said.
In addition to the increased isolation, many Americans are losing their jobs or seeing their businesses shut indefinitely. That means increased financial stress for tens of millions of people. And at the same time services like non-profit suicide prevention hotlines might be needed the most, they are having to send volunteers home temporarily for their safety.
In Boise, Idaho, the states Suicide Hotline Director John Reusser said only paid staff are at the call center right now, and only two in the phone room at a time for social distancing.
It reduces the number of folks we have available to answer calls, especially during the peak times, he said.
And, while the focus is on getting people the help they need right now, Reusser is concerned about the future. Hes already had to cancel two fundraisers for his organization, and hes not sure when hell be able to raise much-needed funds again.
I would say definitely theres theres concern long-term, he said. But I really do think that, you know, Im personally am trying to sort of take this day by day and not try not to worry about the coming months.
Resources if you or someone you know is considering suicide:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:
1-800-273-8255 or suicidepreventionlifeline.org
While most of my work focuses on suicide that humanity has faced for a long time, this brief Note to Readers spotlights on the new emerging global problem: the ongoing outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). The effects of coronavirus on mental health have not as yet been studied systematically. I think its reasonable to anticipate that this impact of the virus will have a rippling effect on national and worldwide suicide events, especially based on current hysterical public reactions, including some shared puzzling medical mistrust by patients and providers. Therefore, the coronavirus pandemic is not just a medical phenomenon.
As concerns over the perceived threat grows, stress, panic, sleep disturbances will be experienced, and a wide array of DSM-5 diagnoses will be swiftly applied. Likely among these conditions are generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, severe phobias, and PTSD. And, for some, the particularly neurologically vulnerable phenotype, the tension may trigger an acute adjustment disorder (AD), precipitating or worsening existing suicidality, i.e., thoughts and/or behavior. In others, as a consequence of quick and undifferentiated misdiagnosis, iatrogenic damage may escalate mortality rates.
As noted in earlier posts, the association between stress-responsive acute AD and completed suicide is substantial. It is a diagnosis given following a significant psychosocial stressor. Who can deny the current chaotic impact of this proximal pandemic on the usual social, financial, occupational, and interpersonal order? Suicidal behavior is more common among people diagnosed with AD than people without this diagnosis. In a recent study, those diagnosed with AD had 12 times the rate of suicide as those without an AD diagnosis, after controlling for history of depression and other matched factors.
CDC data from 2018 and provisional AD suicide death temporal associations range from 30% in youth to over 60% in adults. Earlier reports have also demonstrated distinct acute AD phenotypes characterized by behavioral and cognitive symptoms with irresistible and rapid suicide transition in hours to a few days.
At the current level of plausible myopic focus on COVID-19, there will be a strong temptation among clinicians to simplify and generalize a patient's emotional distress, to normalize a patient's presentation as "depression, depressive-like, or depression-lite" and assert an early discharge to GOMER ("get out of my emergency room") to relieve bottlenecks. However, "There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact." These cases are frequently subtle, unobvious, and autonomous wherein rationality and competency to provide informed consent are hijacked. Within a matter of minutes to hours, and often while boarded as an unobserved person in the ED, the modified, proverbial "epigenetic transcription clock" begins to tick. Or, as Yogi Berra insightfully put it, "It's getting late early."
Likely, and regrettably, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors will be precipitously initiated in the office, telemedicine setting, or emergency department for a wide variety of the aforementioned DSM-5 diagnoses. Characteristically, there will be limited follow-up to evaluate drug-emergent side effects. These agents may further redistribute the novel public health risk, that is, attenuate dysphoric symptoms in some, yet, in many others, increase or compound medication associated activation, akathisia, agitation, and self-harm.
At this critical time in our nation's healthcare history, additional errors of commission may occur as a result of this uninformed prescribing action. Clearly, healthcare providers want to improve coronavirus outcomes while reducing the risk of additional patient harms. Pause before narrowly prescribing to double-check.
As Caesar Augustus opined, "Make haste
to Support Mental Health and Coping with the Coronavirus
Studied suicide attempts (SAs) to
investigate (1) social network and social support of suicide
attempters (SARs) and (2) direct influences of the social
environment on suicide. Data from 101 hospitalized German
SARs and from 82 healthy, age- and sex-matched controls
indicate that SARs lacked relatives and partners as sources
of crisis support, as well as friends and acquaintances for
everyday interactions. Data from G. L. Klerman et al (see
show that suicides in 2 West German cities peaked between
1976 and 1978, with the sharpest increase in younger age
groups. Data collected on SAs after a television show on
suicide supported the hypothesis that fictional suicide
models can induce SAs.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have described the coronavirus, or COVID-19, as an outbreak of respiratory disease caused by a novel (new) coronavirus that has now been detected in more than 100 locations internationally, including in the United States. The virus has been named SARS-CoV-2 and the disease it causes has been named coronavirus disease 2019 (abbreviated COVID-19). You can read more about COVID-19 on the CDCs Situation Summary
Infectious disease outbreaks such as COVID-19, as well as other public health events, can cause emotional distress and anxiety. Feeling anxious, confused, overwhelmed or powerless is common during an infectious disease outbreak, especially in the face of a virus with which the general public may be unfamiliar. These feelings of distress and anxiety can occur even if you are not at high risk of getting sick.
People that are feeling emotional distress related to COVID-19 can take actions to help support themselves and others.
Reliable sources of information about COVID-19:
Other Helpful Resources to Support Your Mental and Emotional Well-being:
of Despair: The Other Covid-19 Crisis That is Killing
Yet, theres another danger that has not been talked about. Its called Deaths of Despair. According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Across the United States, more people are dying from so-called deaths of despairsuicide, drug and alcohol poisoning, and alcoholic liver diseasethan at any other point in recorded history.
In 2017, the overall death rate from deaths of despair (45.8 people per 100,000) outpaced lung cancer, stroke and car crashes when adjusting for age, according to CDC data. Thats an increase of more than 180 percent since 2000.
In their ground-breaking book, Deaths of Despair, social scientists Anne Case and Angus Deaton say,
Deaths of despair have contributed to three years of consecutive reductions in average life expectancy, making the U.S. the only wealthy nation in modern times to exhibit such a reversal.
Published earlier this year the book details the Americans who are a greatest risk and the underlying causes of the problem.
For the white working class, todays America has become a land of broken families and few prospects. As the college-educated become healthier and wealthier, adults without a degree are literally dying from pain and despair.
Case and Deaton tie the crisis to the weakening position of labor, the growing power of corporations, and, above all, to a rapacious health-care sector that redistributes working-class wages into the pockets of the wealthy. Capitalism, which over two centuries lifted countless people out of poverty, is now destroying the lives of blue-collar America.
With the coming of Covid-19 deaths of despair may be on the increase. Nearly 90,000 have died from the virus thus far. Yet, a study by Well Being Trust, and the Washington, D.C.-based Robert Graham Center for Policy Studies in Family Medicine and Primary Care, on May 8, 2020 headlined these startling findings: The COVID Pandemic Could Lead to 75,000 Additional Deaths from Alcohol and Drug Misuse and Suicide.
The report says,
The collective impact of COVID-19 could be devastating. Three factors, already at work, include economic failure with massive unemployment, mandated social isolation for months and possible residual isolation for years, and uncertainty caused by the sudden emergence of a novel, previously unknown microbe. The economics of COVID-19 have already caused a massive jump in unemployment: job loss leading to personal and professional economic loss across all business sectors. Hourly workers as well as salaried professionals have been laid off and furloughed indefinitely.
The report continues with further causes of increased deaths of despair. Isolation, whether called social isolation or physical distancing is leading to loss of social connection and cohesion. No groups over 10, no cinema (a mainstay of the Great Depression), no sports, no clubs or social organizations, no church services. Virtual community may not be enough to hold off the impact of isolation and loneliness. And finally, uncertainty. The stress of uncertainty has a serious impact on the emergence and worsening of mental illness. These are unprecedented times, and uncertainty may lead to fear which may give way to dread.
The study combined information on deaths of despair from 2018 as a baseline (there were 181,686), projected levels of unemployment from 2020 to 2029 and then estimated the additional annual number of deaths based on economic modeling. Across nine different scenarios, the additional deaths of despair range from 27,644 (quick recovery, smallest impact of unemployment on deaths of despair) to 154,037 (slow recovery, greatest impact of unemployment on deaths of despair), with 75,000 being the most likely. When considering the negative impact of isolation and uncertainty, a higher estimate may be more accurate, the study concluded.
As a therapist I tell people that before we can decide what course of action is best for us, we have to look at both sides of the question. As we face the decision of when and how to leave our homes and get back to our lives in the community, we have to look at the risks and rewards of both sides of the equation.
What are the risks of going back out and mingling with people and facing an increased risk of getting infected by the virus? What are the rewards and benefits of getting back to interacting with others and getting our economy back on its feet? On the other side of the equation we have to ask what are the benefits of staying close to home and only going out when absolutely necessary? And what are the risks to staying at home with the increased pressures and social isolation?
One of the few public figures who is looking at both sides is David L. Katz, M.D. Dr. Katz is a board-certified specialist in Preventive Medicine & Public Health, the founder and former director of Yale Universitys Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, Past-President of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, and Founder/President of the True Health Initiative.
Dr Katz says,
From the early going, I have championed total harm minimization noting that there was more than one way for the combination of infection and interdiction to hurt and kill people. These weeks (lifetimes?) into the pandemic response, we have new indications that the indirect death toll so-called deaths of despair looks to rival the direct toll of the virus.
In our politically charged atmosphere of fear and division, its simpler to choose a sideLeft or Right, Democrat or Republican, stay at home or get out in the world. Either/or scenarios may be simpler and may fit our current state of polarization, but they are bad for our health. We need, as Dr. Katz recommends, total harm minimization.
Part of this approach recognizes the realities of life and death. No matter what we do were not going eliminate harm. Someday were all going to die and each death is a tragedy and loss. On any given day there will be deaths of people who stay at home and die from drinking, drugs, and suicide. There will also be people who go back out and mingle and die of heart attacks, accidents, cancer, flu, and yes, some will die of Covid-19, even some young and healthy people.
So, what are we to do? Ultimately, we all have to decide whats best for us, for those we love, and those we care about. Dr. Katz reminds us that more and more data are telling us that Covid-19 is two completely different diseases in different populations. It is severe and potentially lethal to the old, the chronically ill and those with pre-existing conditions. It is, however, rarely life-threatening, often mild and often even asymptomatic among those under 50 or 60 in generally good health.
Being that Im 76 years-old, have
had chronic asthma, and lung problems, Im doing to
remain cautious and stay closer to home, maybe for a long
time until we have a workable and safe vaccine. Ill
miss some of the community life, but Ill adapt. Most
of my neighbors are younger and healthier and cant
wait to get back out and mingle. No matter how you slice it,
were in a new world. For me, Im listening to
those I feel I can trust and making decisions that make
sense to me. As I learn more and my gut feelings change,
Ill decide accordingly.
from Oregon show how small gatherings can lead to big
Today, State Health Officer Dr. Dean Sidelinger shared some stories about how weve seen COVID-19 spread in our communities starting from seemingly harmless gatherings:
In the first example, 10 people got together for a family party, and two people at the party were likely infectious at the time, though they did not have symptoms. In total, those two cases have led to 20 reported cases spread across 10 households. At least two of the people work with vulnerable populations. One person lived in a multi-generational house with family members with high-risk conditions. So even though the people who went to the party werent at higher risk for complications, many of the people who got sick potentially exposed people who are more vulnerable.
In the second example, 20 people rented a beach house for a celebration and were together for three days. No one had symptoms during the trip, but four were potentially infectious at the time. Twelve people from the trip got sick, all adults of various ages. These cases then had links to five workplace outbreaks, with a total of more than 300 cases so far.
These examples show that even a small number of people, if they have multiple exposures, can lead to large numbers of cases.
OHA Director Patrick Allen cautioned everyone to rethink their celebration plans as the Labor Day holiday approaches:
Source: OHA Coronavirus Update 8/27/20
ways veterans are particularly at risk from the coronavirus
Among the most hard-hit (22 page PDF) are veterans, who are particularly susceptible to both health and economic threats from the pandemic. These veterans face homelessness, lack of health care, delays in receiving financial support and even death.
I have spent the past four years studying veterans with substance use and mental health disorders who are in the criminal justice system. This work revealed gaps in health care and financial support for veterans, even though they have the best publicly funded benefits in the country.
Here are the eight ways the pandemic threatens veterans:
1. Age and other vulnerabilities
Younger veterans deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan were exposed to dust storms, oil fires and burn pits, and perhaps as a consequence have high rates of asthma and other respiratory illnesses.
Age and respiratory illnesses are both risk factors for COVID-19 mortality. As of April 13, 241 patients in Veterans Administration health care facilities had died of COVID-19 and 4,000 have tested positive.
2. Dangerous residential facilities
Veterans needing end-of-life care, those with cognitive disabilities, or those needing substance use treatment often live in crowded VA or state-funded residential facilities.
State-funded Soldiers Homes are notoriously starved for money and staff. The horrific situation at the Soldiers Home in Holyoke, Massachusetts, where more than 40 veteran residents have died from a COVID-19 outbreak, illustrates the risk facing the veterans in residential homes.
3. Benefits unfairly denied
When a person transitions from active military service to become a veteran, they receive a Certificate of Discharge or Release. This certificate provides information about the circumstances of the discharge or release. It includes characterizations such as honorable, other than honorable, bad conduct or dishonorable. These are crucial distinctions, because that status determines whether the Veterans Administration will give them benefits.
Research shows that some veterans with discharges that limit their benefits have PTSD symptoms, military sexual trauma or other behaviors related to military stress. Veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan have disproportionately more of these negative discharges than veterans from other eras, for reasons still unclear.
VA hospitals across the country are short-staffed and dont have the resources they need to protect their workers. AP/Kathy Willens
The Veterans Administration frequently and perhaps unlawfully denies benefits to veterans with other than honorable discharges.
Many veterans have requested upgrades to their discharge status. There is a significant backlog of these upgrade requests, and the pandemic will add to it, further delaying access to health care and other benefits.
4. Diminished access to health care
Dental surgery, routine visits and elective surgeries at Veterans Administration medical centers have been postponed since mid-March. VA hospitals are understaffed just before the pandemic, the VA reported 43,000 staff vacancies out of more than 400,000 health care staff. Access to health care will be even more difficult when those medical centers finally reopen.
As of Monday, April 13, 1,520 VA health care workers have tested positive for COVID-19, and thousands of health care workers are under quarantine. The VA is asking doctors and nurses to come out of retirement to help already understaffed hospitals.
5. Mental health may get worse
An average of 20 veterans commit suicide every day. A national task force is currently addressing this scourge.
But many outpatient mental health programs are on hold or being held virtually. Some residential mental health facilities have closed.
Under these conditions, the suicide rate for veterans may grow. Suicide hotline calls by veterans were up by 12% on March 22, just a few weeks into the crisis.
6. Complications for homeless veterans and those in the justice system
An estimated 45,000 veterans are homeless (a national disgrace) on any given night, and 181,500 veterans are in prison or jail. Thousands more are under court-supervised substance use and mental health treatment in Veterans Treatment Courts. More than half of veterans involved with the justice system have either mental health problems or substance use disorders.
As residential facilities close to new participants, many veterans eligible to leave prison or jail have nowhere to go. They may stay incarcerated or become homeless.
Courts are moving online or ceasing operations altogether. It is unclear whether participants will face delays graduating from court-supervised treatments.
Further, some Veterans Treatment Courts still require participants to take drug tests. With COVID-19 circulating, participants must put their health at risk to travel to licensed testing facilities.
As veterans facilities close to new participants, many veterans eligible to leave prison or jail have nowhere to go and may become homeless, like this Navy veteran in Los Angeles. Getty/Mario Tama
7. Disability benefits delayed
In the pandemics epicenter in New York, tens of thousands of veterans should have access to VA benefits because of their low income but dont, so far.
The pandemic has exacerbated existing delays in finding veterans in need, filing their paperwork and waiting for decisions. Ryan Foley, an attorney in New Yorks Legal Assistance Group, a nonprofit legal services organization, noted in a personal communication that these benefits are worth tens of millions of dollars to veterans and their families in the midst of a health and economic disaster.
All 56 regional Veterans Administration offices are closed to encourage social distancing. Compensation and disability evaluations, which determine how much money veterans can get, are usually done in person. Now, they must be done electronically, via telehealth services in which the veteran communicates with a health care provider via computer.
But getting telehealth up and running is taking time, adding to the longstanding VA backlog. Currently, approximately 75,000 veterans wait more than 125 days for a decision. (That is what the VA defines as a backlog anything less than 125 days is not considered a delay on benefit claims.)
8. Obstacles to getting stimulus checks
Veterans with the greatest financial need may not automatically receive their stimulus checks. Currently, those living on tax-exempt income from the VA must file a tax return to get a check.
But e-filing a tax return is a significant obstacle for many, especially severely disabled veterans who may not have computers or know how to use e-file software.
There are many social groups to pay attention to, all with their own problems to face during the pandemic. With veterans, many of the problems they face now existed long before the coronavirus arrived on U.S. shores.
But with the challenges posed by the situation today, veterans who were already lacking adequate benefits and resources are now in deeper trouble, and it will be harder to answer their needs.
[Youre smart and curious
about the world. So are The Conversations authors and
can get our highlights each weekend.]
will see far more children die of suicide than die of COVID
A press representative was present during this interview, which has been edited for brevity and clarity.
MedPage Today: On a recent HHS podcast, you spoke about the challenge of "health vs health" -- the risk of COVID versus mental health and other issues. Can you expand on ways to balance those risks?
McCance-Katz: It is the seminal question around the whole issue of coronavirus and actions taken and/or contemplated. And what I mean by that is Americans have many health issues.... We know that there is isolation imposed by quarantines, and stay-at-home orders, and the closure of businesses, where we see financial ruin for millions of Americans. [There are] Americans who are out of work ... and children that are out of school ... who have lost their ability to socialize with friends, which is so important developmentally.
These are issues of whole health and we have an infectious disease ... what is called a coronavirus. Coronaviruses are also viruses that cause the common cold.... We know that people get colds all the time. With coronavirus very unfortunately there is a deadly aspect to this.... I don't have to tell you how many American lives have been lost. But what I do have to tell you is that we cannot simply pay attention to a virus. And while we needed to take the actions that we took early on to get time to have our healthcare system be able to address the needs of our people who become infected with the virus, we cannot, in my opinion -- we should not, in my opinion -- not return to some aspect of normalcy in our society.
And what I mean by that is we need to make our healthcare facilities available to people who have other medical issues ... We have to pay attention to what are also life-threatening illnesses: serious mental illness and major depression with suicidality that's a life-threatening disorder. We know that before the COVID virus, before we even knew about this pandemic, we had over 180,000 Americans every year that die of suicide, of drug overdoses, and of alcohol related problems.... Those numbers are going to go up because of the restrictive measures that have been taken and are really not relenting in many areas.
We need to protect our vulnerable. We need to make use of safety measures, social distancing, mask-wearing -- and to do that very routinely, but in doing that we really need to open up our society. We need to let people be people. We need to let people be together, to show warmth and caring and love for each other, which they've not been allowed to do for months on end. And we continue to hear people who are called public health experts tell us that it should remain that way. I would argue that a public health expert needs to consider all aspects of health. I will tell you mental and substance use disorders are public health issues, just like COVID.
You received some pushback on that same HHS podcast when you described children not returning to schools as "nonsense." Are you saying that all schools should reopen? If not, under what circumstances should schools reopen for in-person learning?
I think it's a tragedy that we've politicized this issue to the degree we have, because this is an issue that wreaked havoc on American children and American families. I don't take back anything I said, but what I will say is this: I have never said that children should go back to school without safety measures in place. And so when I say it's "nonsense" that children can't go back to school, what I mean is it is nonsense that they cannot go back to school with safety measures in place.
Use social distancing; children can use masks. Children can be taught and take pride in learning about good hygiene and making sure that they are part of the solution. There are ways to make school safe, and these school administrators frankly have had since last March to think about that, and so I would like to see them really come to the table and talk about ideas for how they can make their schools safe because they can, and we should let children go back to school.
Now, if you have an area of the country that has high rates of COVID infection, then I will let the CDC comment on those risks of infection [at which] they would recommend not putting kids back in school. Then I would go along with that, but otherwise, children need to return to school. You will see far more children die of suicide than you will COVID.
Is there a level at which you believe a shutdown or a partial shutdown is reasonable? And should schools be prioritized over other settings? Should we consider closing bars and restaurants, so we can contain the virus and reopen schools?
I don't believe we should use a blunt instrument in the form of a general shutdown. I think that one of the reasons there's so much coronavirus fatigue is that people have been subjected to shutdowns in areas where there hasn't been much virus.
I also think that this is a virus that is going to spread. And all you need to do is look at what's going on in Europe, where we were told they were the example early on ... and you can see the virus has come back and it's not because they all of a sudden stopped doing what they were doing.
This is a virus that is going to spread, so given that we have a lot of information now about how to make the vulnerable safe, how to put safety measures in place, and we have treatments available, we should use all of that knowledge to avoid shutdowns, because the cost of shutdowns to Americans in every other aspect, be it mental health, be it physical health conditions, be it substance use issues -- those costs are enormous and are not being adequately considered.
There are places that will need to have some form of restriction, if the virus level is high and hospitalizations and deaths are high, but I think we need to look at hospitalizations and deaths over numbers of cases, because particularly now, with cases spreading in younger people, we won't see as much in the way of terrible outcomes. What we have to worry about, for example, is when a college student goes home where there are people that are vulnerable.
So why don't we think that through and [not] send them home?... There are certain types of restrictions that we will need to have, and it will be based on viral spread in particular areas but the blunt instruments, the general shutdown, regardless of what's going on in a community, I think is wrong.
You have been very intentional about your agency's focus on reducing adult suicide, particularly among older adults. What progress have you seen with the Zero Suicide initiative? What challenges have there been to addressing suicide in the midst of the pandemic?
SAMHSA has a very substantial interest in suicide prevention, and we have a number of programs that address suicide prevention.... The Zero Suicide program is one that trains healthcare practitioners on how to ask about suicidal thinking, thoughts and plans, and -- if an affirmative answer is given -- how to get that person to additional medical attention, care, and to basically follow up to help make sure that the person does not try to take their lives.... We think that it's a very successful program, and that it's helping to impact suicide.
In 2019, for the first time in many years, there was actually a small reduction in suicide in this country. I'd like to think that SAMHSA had a major role in that through its programs such as Zero Suicide ... and the Garrett Lee Smith prevention program for younger individuals and also through our suicide prevention lifeline.... We also are expanding into text services. We know that a lot of younger people like the use of texting over telephone, and so we are funding those kinds of newer modalities as well.
You asked about the pandemic -- it's very, very worrisome. The restrictions that have been put into place to try to address the spread of the virus have resulted in substantial isolation for many people. For those with mental health issues, this can really exacerbate those conditions if people have not been able to go their providers that they usually go to for mental health services. And for many, they're fortunate if they have telephone contact or telehealth contact. But really we know that the most effective services, the evidence we have is based on face-to-face interactions. So while we are proponents of telehealth and we want to see that stay ... We know that's not enough.
Do you think that physicians aren't well-trained in this area of assessing somebody's risk of self-harm and suicide?
I absolutely think they're not
trained.... I'm a physician, so I think I can speak to that
with some authority. I can tell you that in medical school,
you do have a rotation in psychiatry where you, depending on
what type of clinical rotation you have, may be exposed to
individuals with acute suicidality, but in general, this is
not an area of emphasis in medical education. And for other
types of practitioners it is not an area of great
emphasis.... One of the really excellent resources we have
at SAMHSA is our Suicide
Prevention Resource Center,
that does a lot of training and technical assistance on
suicide prevention that is directed toward providers... to
help them get those skill sets in place.
Given the increase in firearm purchases during the COVID-19 pandemic, this study seeks to determine the extent to which COVID-19 firearm purchasers differ in terms of suicide risk from nonfirearm owners and firearm owners who did not make a purchase during COVID-19.
Participants (N=3,500) were recruited through Qualtrics Panels to participate in an online survey examining methods for self-protection. ANCOVAs were utilized to assess suicidal ideation. Multivariate ANCOVAs were used to examine firearm storage practices and storage changes during COVID-19. Data were collected in late June and early July 2020, and analyses were conducted in July 2020.
Individuals who purchased a firearm during COVID-19 more frequently reported lifetime, past-year, and past-month suicidal ideation than nonfirearm owners and firearm owners who did not make a purchase during COVID-19. COVID-19 purchasers with lifetime ideation were less likely to hide loaded firearms in a closet than those without lifetime ideation. COVID-19 purchasers with past-year or past-month ideation were more likely to use locking devices than COVID-19 purchasers without past-month ideation.
In contrast to firearm owners more generally, COVID-19 firearm purchasers appear far more likely to have experienced suicidal ideation and appear less likely to use certain unsafe firearm storage methods but also report a greater number of storage changes during COVID-19 that made firearms less secure. Future research should seek to further understand those who purchased a firearm during COVID-19 and determine ways to increase secure storage among firearm owners.
In late 2019, coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) emerged. Local and federal governments have enforced social distancing in an effort to slow the spread. Such interventions physically separate people, which is an effective method for preventing the spread of infectious diseases.1, 2, 3 However, some interventions may also lead to unintended consequences such as unemployment and social isolation, which are risk factors for suicide.4,5 Indeed, indicators of poor mental health nationwide have been increasing in severity during the pandemic.6 This has led to concerns regarding increased suicide risk.5,7
Another consequence of the pandemic is increased firearms sales in the U.S. An estimated 2 million firearms were purchased in March 2020,8 and >2.5 million Americans became first-time gun owners during the first 4 months of 2020.9 The increase in firearm purchases is concerning given the association between firearms and suicide.10 Firearm ownership is robustly associated with suicide (e.g., mental illness11). Suicide is 3 times more likely in homes with firearms,12 and the risk is increased for all household members.13 Risk for suicide surges by 100-fold immediately after the purchase of a handgun.14 In addition, unsafe firearm storage (e.g., loaded and unlocked) increases the risk.15,16 Furthermore, in some populations (e.g., service members), suicidal firearm owners are more likely to store firearms unsafely.17,18
Thus far, it is unknown whether those who have and have not purchased a firearm during COVID-19 differ in terms of suicide risk. One study utilizing a convenience sample (N=1,105) from Amazon's Mechanical Turk conducted in the opening week of May 2020 found few demographic differences between individuals who had and those who had not purchased firearms in the initial months of the pandemic. This survey, however, did not assess for suicidal ideation and included purchases that predated the initial surge of COVID-19 cases.19 COVID-19 firearm purchasers may be at particularly heightened risk given their recent purchase and pandemic-related consequences compared with other firearm owners and nonfirearm owners. Furthermore, individuals motivated to purchase firearms during COVID-19 may represent a different group of individuals, perhaps driven by anxiety potentially accompanied by a history of suicidal ideation. In this sense, a cohort effect could exist, resulting in a higher-risk group of individuals driving the firearm purchasing surge, thereby introducing long-term suicide risk into the homes of individuals who otherwise may not have acquired firearms. This study seeks to determine the extent to which those who acquired firearms during COVID-19 differ from those who did not in terms of suicide risk. Exploratory analyses examine whether suicidal ideation is associated with less-safe storage methods more generally and storage changes specifically during COVID-19. Each of these analyses is considered on the basis of lifetime suicidal ideation, past-year suicidal ideation, and past-month suicidal ideation. Given that many of the firearms purchased during COVID-19 will remain in homes after the pandemic, these findings may have implications for firearm safety and suicide prevention efforts beyond the context of the current moment.
Participants were 3,500 U.S. residents (51.5% female, mean age=46.09 years, 66.5% White) recruited using Qualtrics Panel, an online survey platform that maintains a database of millions of U.S. residents who have previously volunteered to participate in survey-based studies. Quota sampling was utilized to enroll a sample demographically matched to 2010 Census distributions for age, sex, race/ethnicity, income, and education. Panel members were invited to participate in the survey through e-mail invitation, which included a link that redirected them to the study's page. The landing page included information about the study's design, purpose, risks, and benefits. Consent to participate was provided by checking a box indicating consent. After completing the survey, participants were compensated in the form and amount agreed on when they joined the panel. Participants were eligible if they were aged =18 years. The study procedures were reviewed and approved by the necessary review boards.
Demographic information was collected using items assessing age, sex, race, ethnicity, highest educational attainment, and annual household income. Firearm ownership was assessed using a single item asking: Do you currently own a firearm? Acquisition of a firearm during COVID-19 was assessed using an item asking: Have you purchased a firearm during the COVID-19 pandemic? Firearm storage was assessed using an item asking: Which of the following storage procedures do you use for the firearms currently located in or around your home? (select all that are used), with the following answers: gun safe; gun cabinet; locking device (e.g., cable lock, trigger lock); hard cases (e.g., pelican case); hide in closet or drawer, unloaded; hide in a closet or drawer, loaded; and other safety procedure. Reasons for acquiring firearms during COVID-19 were assessed using an item asking: What were your reasons for acquiring a firearm during the COVID-19 pandemic? (choose all that apply). Firearm storage changes during COVID-19 were assessed using an item asking: Have you recently changed your firearm(s) storage practices because of the COVID-19 pandemic? If participants endorsed making changes owing to COVID-19, they were then asked: How has your firearm(s) storage practices changed since COVID-19? (choose all that apply). To determine the level of change, this item was summed such that there was a more secure variable and less secure variable. Possible storage change options included unloaded =1 firearm, loaded =1 firearm, removed locking device from =1 firearm, placed a locking device on =1 firearm, removed =1 firearm from a safe/lock box, placed =1 firearm in a safe/lock box, stored =1 firearm outside the home, stored =1 firearm inside the home, and other. Other was not included in the total. These changes represent an overall number of types of storage changes made across all of an individual's firearms and, as such, cannot be said to represent the storage practice of each individual firearm. Instead, these change variables represent the extent to which individuals made adjustments to storage practices overall during this timeframe and the extent to which such changes involved rendering firearms more or less secure.
Suicidal ideation was assessed with the self-report version of the Self-Injurious Thoughts and Behaviors Interview-Revised.20 This tool assesses for suicidal ideation by asking participants to identify which of 8 different suicide-related thoughts they have experienced in their lifetime, the past year, and the past month. For this study, an individual was considered to have suicidal ideation for a given timeframe if they endorsed any of the 8 suicide-related thoughts during that timeframe.
Between-group differences in reports of experiencing lifetime, past-year, and past-month suicidal ideation were examined using logistic regression. Age, sex, education, and annual household income served as covariates. Differences in general firearm storage practices were considered using chi-square analyses. Changes in storage practices specifically during COVID-19 were examined using a series of multivariate ANCOVAs.
The COVID-19 pandemic has seen a surge in firearm sales across the U.S. and has raised concerns about long- and short-term increases in suicide.5,6 Developing a clear understanding of the extent to which COVID-19 firearm purchasers differ from other firearm ownersand nonfirearm ownerswith respect to suicide risk could inform data-driven steps toward reducing risk. Given the limited time that has transpired since the initial surge of COVID-19, this understanding is currently lacking.
As expected, COVID-19 firearm purchasers reported lifetime, past-year, and past-month suicidal ideation with far greater frequency than both firearm owners who have not purchased firearms during COVID-19 and nonfirearm owners. These findings indicate that individuals already at risk for death by suicide are introducing a pronounced risk factor for suicide into their homes during a time of extended social isolation, economic uncertainty, and general upheaval. This combination of factors does not guarantee an increase in suicide rates but represents an unusually large surge in the risk made more troubling by the fact that firearms purchased during COVID-19 may remain in the homes beyond the pandemic.14 Firearm owners who have not purchased firearms during COVID-19 did not differ from nonfirearm owners with respect to suicidal ideation, which is consistent with previous research and highlights that COVID-19 firearm purchasers may represent a distinctly high-risk group.21 It may be that anxiety is driving the firearm purchasing surge, consistent with the finding that protection at or away from home were the most common reasons endorsed for purchasing a firearm during COVID-19. This also aligns with previous research.19 That same anxiety could partially explain the elevated frequency of suicidal ideation and indicate that demographic patterns of firearm purchasing have been different during COVID-19. Such interpretations need to be considered within the context of a notable limitation, however. The data did not allow confident identification of which COVID-19 firearm purchasers represented first-time firearm owners. The difference between purchasing a firearm for the first time and purchasing it for the fifth time, for example, may be quite meaningful. First-time buyers are likely less familiar with safe firearm storage methods. Furthermore, it may be that the motives for purchasing firearms during the pandemic differ between first-time buyers and individuals who have purchased firearms in the past, meaning that important subgroups would exist within the groups considered in these analyses.
The findings regarding storage practices were somewhat mixed. In contrast to research indicating that those at elevated risk for suicide are more likely to store their firearms unsafely,15,16 COVID-19 firearm purchasers who endorsed lifetime or recent suicidal ideation were more likely to utilize a number of specific storage practices that may mitigate suicide risk. Those with lifetime suicidal ideation were less likely to store firearms hidden in a drawer or closet and loaded, and those with past-year or past-month suicidal ideation were more likely to utilize locking devices.
In contrast to findings examining specific storage methods overall, the results recorded when participants were asked specifically about changes made during COVID-19 were complicated. COVID-19 firearm purchasers who endorsed lifetime or past-year suicidal ideation endorsed making a greater number of firearm storage changes that increased ready access to firearms as well as changes that made firearms less readily accessible. In addition, those with past-month suicidal ideation endorsed having made a greater number of firearm storage changes during COVID-19 that rendered firearms more readily accessible than did COVID-19 firearm purchasers who endorsed no past-month suicidal ideation. This may indicate that individuals who purchased firearms during COVID-19 and who are at a higher risk for suicide are more volatile with respect to their storage practices. For some, this may represent a lack of experience and an effort to develop a comfort level with a storage system. For others, this might represent fluctuating levels of anxiety regarding COVID-19 and their need for ready access for protection. Without an understanding of the entire profile of changes made by specific individuals, these findings are difficult to interpret. If the same individual did not only make storage changes that rendered a firearm more accessible but also changes that made that same (or another) firearm less accessible, the overall shift in the level of security would be unclear.
This work had several limitations. First, although the sample was large and matched to the 2010 Census data, quota sampling was used rather than probability-based sampling. Furthermore, the sample of COVID-19 firearm purchasers was small. In addition, although participants were asked why they acquired firearms during COVID-19, it is not definitively clear that their motivations were driven by the pandemic and fundamentally different from what their motivations would have been outside the current context. Protection at or away from home is consistently the most frequently endorsed reason for firearm ownership,22 including both in data that predate COVID-19 and data that partially overlap with COVID-19.19 Economic uncertainty, fears of societal breakdown, and a general sense of threat during uncertain times may influence protective firearm ownership23; however, the extent to which such motivations are COVID-19 specific rather than simply amplified by current events is unclear. Finally, the data did not allow examination of the impact of the racial justice movement taking place during 2020 and, in this sense, was limited in its ability to fully understand the context underlying the firearm purchasing surge. Relatedly, the data could not address the potential impact of the pending Presidential election or recent surges in interpersonal gun violence across the U.S. Nonetheless, the comparison of COVID-19 firearm purchasers with other firearm owners and the general population allowed a novel examination of a timely problem. The use of self-report and cross-sectional data also represents limitations. Finally, the response rate for the survey was unknown, which limits the understanding of the impact of selection bias.
Despite these limitations, these data
offer substantial value. Understanding suicide risk among
individuals driving the surge in firearm sales is vital for
the U.S. to develop a national strategy for combating any
potential surge in suicide attempts among firearm owners.
The data indicate that these individuals may be more likely
to be suicidal than other firearm owners, thereby raising
questions about the generalizability of previous research on
firearm owners to the current cohort. Indeed, these findings
highlight the importance of implementing more rapid data
collection and reporting of suicide deaths in the U.S. The
current lag in reporting of suicide data precludes a truly
effective public health response to this potential risk. A
sharp increase in suicide deaths is not an inevitable result
of a surge in firearm purchasing, but a sharp increase in
firearm acquisitions among suicidal individuals would
increase that risk.
Mental State Tied to COVID-19 Mortality
Patients admitted to the hospital with confirmed SARS-Cov2 infection and altered mentation had a higher mortality risk than age- and severity-matched controls (OR 1.39, 95% CI 1.04-1.86, P=0.04), reported David Altschul, MD, of Montefiore Health Care System and Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, and colleagues, in Neurology.
"Patients presenting with COVID-19 and altered mental status have a different hospital course than other patients with COVID-19. They are more likely to have abnormal presenting lab biomarker values and less likely to have classic COVID signs such as fever and oxygen desaturation," Altschul said.
"The important thing to understand here is that patients presenting to hospital emergency rooms with altered mental status and COVID-19 infection warrant hospital admission because they have a higher likelihood of a severe course, and a higher risk of death," he told MedPage Today. "These symptoms could be a harbinger for severe illness prior to other abnormal findings."
COVID patients with radiologically-confirmed stroke in the study, while fewer in number, also had higher mortality risk than controls (OR 3.1, 95% CI 1.65-5.92, P=0.001).
"Stroke, which can present with or without pulmonary COVID symptoms in COVID-19 patients, was the most severe neurologic manifestation presentation, but very rare, occurring in only 1% of all inpatient COVID-19 infections," Altschul noted. "COVID-19 patients who also had stroke were much more likely to have a severe illness."
The study looked at data from 4,711 COVID-19 patients admitted to Montefiore from March 1 to April 16, 2020. Of these, 581 (12%) had neurological problems serious enough to warrant neuroimaging. These patients were compared with 1,743 COVID-19 patients without neurologic symptoms, matched for age and disease severity, who were admitted in the same period.
Of the 581 patients, 258 had altered mental status and 55 were diagnosed with stroke. More than half of patients with altered mental status (56%) were men and 74% were older than 60. Some patients with altered mentation had dementia, but 23.6% had no history of cognitive impairment or any clear toxic, metabolic disturbances.
"We defined altered mental status as impaired cognition -- defined as disorientation, confusion, agitation, or delirium -- or impaired arousal, defined as drowsiness, somnolence, lethargy, or obtundation," Altschul said.
"The patients in this category were more likely to have abnormal biomarkers secondary to severe COVID-19 infection, which in many cases was the cause of their altered mental status," he added. "Regardless of the underlying cause of their altered mental state, these patients had worse outcomes."
It's likely many of these patients had delirium, "which has been confirmed in multiple previous studies to occur with increased frequency in older adults with COVID-19," noted Sharon Inouye, MD, MPH, of Hebrew SeniorLife in Boston and Harvard Medical School, who wasn't involved with the study.
"Delirium is a frequent presenting symptom and can be the main or only presenting symptom of COVID-19 infection," Inouye told MedPage Today. "Many older adults do not present with the typical symptoms of fever, cough, or shortness of breath. Heightening the awareness of delirium will help to improve the detection and management of COVID-19 infection in older adults."
More than half of stroke patients (56.4%) in the study did not have hypertension or other underlying risk factors for stroke, which "agrees with other studies of people with COVID-19 in suggesting that infection with the novel coronavirus is itself a risk factor for stroke," Altschul said.
The study is perhaps the largest to
look at neurologic manifestations of COVID-19 and inpatient
mortality, the researchers noted. It had several
limitations: most patients were Black or Latino and all were
admitted during a major surge period. Deaths that occurred
outside the Montefiore health system were not captured and
minor stroke cases may have been
Americans were already sick. With mental healthcare inaccessible to many Americans and a 35% increase in annual suicide rates from 1999 to 2018 according to the CDC, an epidemic was already festering.
Now, with the additional stressors of COVID-19, Americans are facing compounding mental health challenges. Economic factors such as unemployment, underemployment, wage stagnation, increasing healthcare costs, childcare costs, tuition, and mounting racial inequities in wages and employment combined with political tension and a global pandemic result in acute psychological burdens that have significant downstream impacts on all aspects of health. As Americans navigate these significant stressors, many are also faced with sleep disturbances, social isolation, and loneliness.
In a time of an already pressured and strained healthcare system, the concerns and corollaries of missed diagnoses and delayed treatments present particular challenges for patients and providers. Understanding how chronic disease and mental health intersect and run parallel is important in understanding how the state of illness in the U.S. may be mitigated. One of the first steps should be to overhaul outdated methods of collecting and analyzing data regarding patients' physical and emotional health. In this way and others, healthcare providers, insurers, patients, and other stakeholders should be preparing for the challenges to come.
A key aspect of effective medical and mental health treatment is patient adherence. As adherence to treatment can be essential to a patient's survival, non-adherence has long burdened the healthcare system. Many factors contribute to non-adherence, and researchers continue to study it. Understanding and minimizing non-adherence will be essential to providing efficient whole-person healthcare in the wake of 2020's mental and material traumas.
Loneliness already plagued many Americans prior to coronavirus, social distancing, and quarantine. Cigna's 2018 study on loneliness determined that most Americans are lonely, and loneliness has increased with each subsequent generation. From March to June 2019, among adults ages 50-80, 41% reported a lack of companionship, 56% felt socially isolated, and 46% had infrequent social contact -- a significant increase since 2018.
In 2018, suicide was the 10th leading cause of death overall in the U.S. and the second leading cause of death among 10-34-year-olds and fourth among 35-54-year-olds. The annual suicide rate, over time, increased by 35% from 1999 to 2018. In 2019, a reported 12 million adults seriously considered suicide; 3.5 million made plans to kill themselves, and 1.4 million adults attempted suicide. Reports have indicated that the number of individuals who have seriously considered suicide has risen since 2019. With further stressors on the horizon, the problem is likely to compound and intervention is necessary.
No one actor can solve the coming healthcare crisis in the U.S., but working together all parts of the healthcare system can prepare to mitigate the worst of it. This begins with finding efficiencies that keep costs down while enhancing care and outcomes for patients. Large-scale tech applications supported by structural and regulatory reforms will be necessary, but there's reason for optimism.
The scientific and medical communities
have been able to eradicate diseases like polio and smallpox
in the U.S. in the past, and with COVID vaccines, we will
likely soon tame this pandemic as well. Once that happens,
we can shift our focus to the patients who have been
deprioritized in the midst of this global health emergency.
They're going to need our help.
health agencies watching for rise in suicides during
pandemic, but not seeing it
Public health agencies and suicide prevention groups have been keeping an eye out since spring for a possible rise in suicides.
Based on preliminary data, Oregon has not seen an increase in the number of suicides for the first nine months of 2020 when compared to the same time period in 2019, Oregon Health Authority communications officer wrote Aria Seligmann in an email.
The monthly suicide surveillance updates published by the Oregon agency show the frequency of suicide-related visits to hospital emergency rooms and urgent care centers decreased in the first and second quarters of 2020. For the third quarter of this year, suicide-related visits were similar to 2019. Suicide-related calls in 2020 to the Oregon Poison Center are coming in at a similar pace to last year, too.
Likewise, the Washington State Department of Health and the biggest local health department in the state reported no discernible upward trend, maybe even a slight decrease in suicide deaths, in the first three quarters of 2020.
As of a November tally, there were 861 suicides statewide in the first three quarters of 2020, compared to 940 suicides in the same period of 2019. A Washington DOH spokesperson cautioned that there are delays in the states death data collection, so the preliminary tally of suicide deaths will probably be higher when finalized and therefore track closely with the pre-pandemic trend.
Dr. Kira Mauseth remains on guard. She works on behavioral health aspects of the pandemic response at the Washington health department.
"The risk of suicide and depression and hopelessness as well as substance use are historically at their highest during this phase of any disaster," Mauseth said.
Mauseth said the first thing to know about suicide is that it is preventable. With the holidays and dark days of winter coming, she suggested you be alert if someone you know doesn't seem like their usual self.
Some warning signs to look for include a big change in behavior, extreme mood swings or talking about feeling hopeless, feeling trapped or in unbearable pain. It is not uncommon for a person considering suicide to make direct references about wanting to die.
"If you are concerned about someone you know, it is absolutely OK to ask them about it," said Mauseth during a recent briefing about the state's coronavirus response. "Asking about it does not increase risk. It is actually a really helpful thing."
"You can ask directly if they are thinking about suicide or about the intention to harm themselves somehow," Mauseth continued. "That will help keep people safe right now."
Mauseth said everyone can learn to recognize concerning symptoms, show compassion and check in with others. If someone tells you they are in a risky frame of mind and you are unconfident or uncomfortable intervening, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can help. (So can the Crisis Text Line. Text SOS to 741741)
"Mental and emotional health during periods of mass trauma follow a common curve. At the start, as people are banding together and assisting one another, we often see a period of improved hopefulness," said Kate Cole, a spokesperson for Public Health-Seattle & King County. "As time goes on, we often see people struggle more as the initial spirit of the response fades. And, in the case of COVID-19, we likely have yet to see the long-term fallout in terms of damaged economies, lost jobs and long-term health consequences."
Cole said the public health agency in Washington's most populous county is currently parsing its suicide data to look for changes within certain age groups and communities to see if there are shifts in trends that may guide better prevention efforts. NPR reported Tuesday that while suicide rates declined in 2019 overall, young people between the ages of 10-24 bucked the trend -- with suicide attempts among Black adolescents causing particular conern.
If you or someone you know may be
considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention
Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text HOME to 741741 to
reach the Crisis Text Line.
Teenagers With Mental Health Issues May Be Reluctant To Seek
Before we begin the next story, we want to warn you it is about suicide, and it's going to last for about four minutes. New data from the CDC shows that suicide rates are up more than 50% among young people between the ages of 10 and 24. A recent study found that Black adolescents were especially likely to make an attempt. From American Public Media's Call to Mind project, Alisa Roth reports.
ALISA ROTH, BYLINE: Aabri Spear wants to talk about mental health.
AABRI: I know it's not talked about enough, and I want it to be normalized.
ROTH: Aabri's 14 and a sophomore in high school in Southern California. We caught up on Zoom after virtual school one day. She was sitting in her bedroom, where she showed me an elaborate mural of trees she'd painted on the walls. She says she started thinking about killing herself when she was 8. But her family never talked about mental health until she wound up in the hospital when she was in middle school.
AABRI: We never talked about it. It wasn't a topic that we brought up in the house.
ROTH: Aabri is Black, and she especially wants to make talking about mental health normal for kids like her.
AABRI: I have a lot of Black friends who have struggled with it, who are struggling with it. And they don't like to talk about it because it's like, that's a white person thing.
ROTH: Hurting yourself isn't just a white person thing. Suicide rates among young people have been going up for more than a decade. But it is worse for Black kids, especially if you look at attempts, not suicides.
MICHAEL LINDSEY: Blacks were the only group for which the rates actually were trending upward.
ROTH: Michael Lindsey is a professor at NYU and the lead author of a study published in the journal Pediatrics last year. It found the rate of suicide attempts among Black kids went up almost 75% between 1991 and 2017. Lindsey's analyzing data from 2019 now and believes the trend will continue. Suicide attempts are the biggest risk factor for suicide. Nobody knows exactly why more Black children are trying to hurt themselves. Lindsey points to the fact that Black kids are less likely to be getting mental health care.
Donna Holland Barnes is a professor in the psychiatry department at Howard University, where she teaches medical students about suicide risk management. She says signs of depression can be different in white and Black kids. In Black kids, depression sometimes shows up as being angry or what adults see as being disobedient. And she says Black kids may face stresses white kids don't.
DONNA HOLLAND BARNES: They're not always treated the same. Racism is alive and well.
ROTH: Barnes says it's important to train adults to watch for behaviors like giving away prized possessions.
HOLLAND BARNES: Anywhere where they are, we need to be able to have somebody recognize the signs.
ROTH: Boys and Girls Clubs around the country have been trying to do just that. Last year, three kids at clubs in the Columbus, Ohio, area admitted they'd been contemplating suicide, and staff realized they needed to do something. Olivia Namulindwa runs one of the clubs.
OLIVIA NAMULINDWA: It was kind of like a moment to make sure we educate ourselves on the situation and then apply that in working with the youth directly.
ROTH: She and her colleagues reached out to the children's hospital and to a national suicide prevention group for guidance and some training. One thing they learned - talking about suicide doesn't encourage kids to do it. In fact, it can save a life. Experts say that's an especially important lesson right now, since they know COVID and the killing of George Floyd is adding to the stress on Black kids.
For NPR News, I'm Alisa Roth.
MARTIN: If you or someone you know is
thinking about suicide, there are free trained counselors
available 24/7. You can call the National Suicide Prevention
Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text SOS to 741741
Exploiting Suicide For Political Gain
Misleading Suicide Claims
However, early on in the pandemic, suicide claims were unfounded and, ultimately, untrue. As a suicidologist and emergency child and youth psychiatrist seeing children daily in the emergency department through the first year of the pandemic, it was distressing to see misinformation and fearmongering being popularized in my area of expertise. One idea emerged, without any supporting data; it turned into a moral panic, and soon, it was treated as an established truth without anyone ever actually establishing it in truth: suicide rates will increase.
It was trumpeted in headlines across the world, as well as dire predictions in medical literature. Worse, it was often hailed as a "tsunami," evoking imagery of an unstoppable, devastating force for which humanity has no recourse.
From one of the most powerful pulpits in the world, then-President Trump stated on March 23, 2020, "People get tremendous anxiety and depression, and you have suicides over things like this when you have terrible economies...Probably and -- I mean, definitely -- would be in far greater numbers than the numbers that we're talking about with regard to the virus." Of course, this was not just an esoteric concern for mental health, it was an argument for disregarding public health advice and "opening the economy." Later, in July 2020, Robert Redfield, MD, the CDC director at the time, stated, "...there has been another cost that we've seen, particularly in high schools. We're seeing, sadly, far greater suicides now than we are deaths from COVID." The wielding of suicide data to advance a political narrative has been, itself, distressing. Unfortunately, the issue has also been polarized; many who believe "lockdowns are harmful" have wielded the fabricated idea that suicide rates increased during lockdown periods to advocate for ending public health measures.
The moral panic went into full effect. The New York Times ran an article about the superintendent of schools in Clark County, Nevada reopening schools in response to a "surge of suicides." It should be noted that Clark County had experienced similar increases of suicide rates in youth between March and December three times in the past 20 years: in 2003 (up 141% from 2002), 2011 (up 151% from 2010), and 2013 (up 100% from 2012). The context of the claim made in the New York Times report did not affect its uptake; due to the moral panic, television programs, local news agencies, and other news organizations were reporting the "increase in youth suicides" in one county as if it had national implications. Meanwhile, in Johnson County, Kansas, youth suicide decreased by 33%, and nobody noticed. In my jurisdiction, British Columbia, Canada, there were three fewer youth suicides (21) during the first 11 pandemic months compared to 2019, but every time I discuss the data people are surprised. This is how moral panics work: because of the pervasive belief, media and politicians promote the fear, and highlight data that seems to support it while ignoring the data against it.
The Data Show a Decrease, Not an Increase, in Suicide Rates for 2020
There were two missing data points at the time the moral panic began. The first was the overall rate of suicide in 2019. The U.S. was on a 13-year streak of increasing suicide rates, and most of the media/suicidology pundits assumed that the trend of increasing suicide rates would continue through the pandemic. Due to data lag, 2019's final numbers were not available until the end of 2020, and sure enough, 2019 demonstrated a decrease in suicide rates (47,511). The second set of data not available: the actual data for suicides during the pandemic. During the year, I did my best to keep a running spreadsheet of counties and states that released official figures in the U.S., Canada, and internationally. Finally, the preliminary data was released: suicides did not increase during 2020, in fact, they decreased by 5.6%. to 44,834)
For the U.S., we can now see the month-by-month impacts of the pandemic, and the predictions of "tsunami" are not validated. Generally, we see a decrease in suicides in the initial phase of the pandemic, with a "return to normal" over time. The net effect is still a decrease.
Lingering Areas of Concern in Suicide Figures
There are some indications of concern for suicide rates. We still do not have detailed age-breakdowns. The CDC released a new set of data just recently showing a subset of increase: ER presentations for girls with the combination of non-suicidal self-injury (a sign of distress, which by its name is not suicidal or dangerous, and often in fact a coping mechanism) and suicide attempts, but so far, we are not seeing large deviations of age and gender in the numbers of deaths by suicide. It will take time, but it will be clarifying to have state-by-state, gender, age, race, and urbanization breakdowns. However, multiple studies and data releases have shown a disproportionate bifurcation of suicide rate changes; suicide rates in white Americans decreased while suicide rates in non-white Americans either decreased less or in some cases increased significantly. There is significant evidence showing that across all areas of health, minoritized, racialized, and underprivileged people will bear the worst of a health crisis, and it seems that the COVID-19 pandemic is no exception.
Lessons From the Moral Panic of "Pandemic Suicide"
As someone who has always kept an eye on suicide data and works with people impacted by suicidal thinking and behaviors daily, I have many hopes coming out of the pandemic. I truly hope that we maintain the newfound focus on how mental health impacts our broader economic and personal health, and we maximize the benefits of changes during the pandemic (more work- and school-from-home options for those who benefit from it, wage support for those without, and so on). Also, we need better, real-time data collection on suicides. The nature of suicides is that they are both common (a leading cause of death in the first 40 years) and uncommon (occurring at a rate of about 14 per 100,000 people), such that large efforts to collect national data efficiently and comprehensively will be more helpful than small pockets of information. Finally, I have the optimistic hope that the next time we face an uncertain mental health situation, we try to resist listening to the warning cries of those who have not yet accepted the humble position that we cannot predict suicide rates to any degree of accuracy, and yet we know the societal, economic, and personal efforts we can make to reduce suicide rates.
Tyler Black, MD, is a child and
adolescent psychiatrist and suicidologist based out of
Vancouver, British Columbia. He is a clinical assistant
professor at the University of British Columbia and the
medical director of emergency psychiatry in a major