Durham, N.C. — Pandemic fueled anxiety, self harm and suicide are now increasing among American children and teens. The American Academy of Pediatrics has declared it a national emergency.
Before the pandemic in 2019, many children and adolescents were already at higher risk of suicide, according to Duke Health child and adolescent psychiatrist Nathan Copeland.
“More kids killed themselves in 2019 than at any point in American history,” Copeland said Wednesday during an online webinar with a group of other psychiatric experts.
The experts said since 2019, the risk of suicide among youth has grown dramatically.
There’s been a “15-fold increase of children and young adults coming to our hospital because of such serious suicide attempts,” said Gary Maslow, child and adolescent psychiatrist.
The panel says the causes are many, including students spending more than a year in virtual learning during the pandemic.
Behavioral health analyst Sherika Hill said that the pandemic has exacerbated one’s feeling of isolation and loneliness.
She said other issues like peer bullying have been a big factor, as well as children dealing with social drivers of health, racism and bias.
“One of the most common things we see is increased irritability and increased anger,” Maslow said. Once a problem is recognized, he recommends turning to your pediatrician or primary care doctor.
“They can speak with you as a parent about the child’s needs. They can talk about beginning an assessment,” he said.
Copland stressed the importance of starting a conversation with your child, even if it may feel uncomfortable.
“Being able to say, ‘OK, I’m uncomfortable asking this question, but I need to.’ Fortunately, kids are pretty resilient people, and with support and the way in which we can, as a community, as a system, support them, there is lots of opportunity there,” he said.
Copeland said 20% of kids will experience mental illness, however, tragic outcomes can be avoided with early recognition of problems and seeking professional help.