I received three phone calls in the last two weeks from parents whose teen recently took their own life… suicide.
As you can imagine, the parents are messes with thousands of unanswered questions and a lifetime of second-guessing.
The most recent suicide was of a local teen football player who was hoping for an Ivy League type of scholarship. He wished to play football for that college. However, with the cancellation of fall football and the challenges of homeschooling, this young man no longer qualified for an Ivy League school or that type of scholarship. Very sad and he took his life in the most horrific of ways, with his parents seeing a gruesome sight.
We’re seeing worrying trends in data about poor mental health and suicidality.
In 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported:
Approximately one in five (18.8%) youths had seriously considered attempting suicide, one in six (15.7%) had made a suicide plan, one in 11 (8.9%) had made an attempt, and one in 40 (2.5%) had made a suicide attempt requiring medical treatment.
Moreover, from 2009 to 2019, we see an uptick in progressively poorer mental health outcomes:
There were significant increases in the percent of US high school students experiencing persistent sadness or hopelessness (from 26% in 2009 to 37% in 2019), seriously considering attempting suicide (14%–19%), making a suicide plan (11% to 16%) or attempting suicide (6% to 9%). White, woman or sexual minority (lesbian, gay or bisexual) students were at higher risk than non-white, men and heterosexual students.
Remember that these numbers are pre-pandemic. We’re still waiting for the CDC to publish data on adolescent mental health outcomes in 2020 and 2021.
According to the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry:
Young people need their peer group for identity and support, so they may be more likely to experience loneliness as an unintended consequence of disease‐containment measures. This propensity to experience loneliness may make young people particularly vulnerable to loneliness in the COVID‐19 context, which, based on our findings, may further exacerbate the mental health impacts of the disease containment measures.
70% of teens reported feeling sad, overwhelmed, or worried. Nearly half of their parents recently stated that their kids are struggling with mental illness since the pandemic started.
So, what can you do as a parent?
- Support your teen, unconditionally.
- Communicate daily.
- Take the time to acknowledge that things are not normal. These are tough times, and you are here for them.
- Start sharing meals, start eating ice cream at the shops again.
- Put down those cell phones and make eye to eye contact.
- Say good night to your teen and chat for five minutes. Leave the day positive for them. Never assume they are OK, but don’t assume they are broken either.
Your teen is impressionable, starving for socialization and positive feedback, and confused about their future. You can be their lifeline.