Archive for June, 2022

Decline in Teen Mental Health May Increase Suicide Risk

A depressed teenager gazes stoically while she sits in a large gray chair.

The hidden impact of the pandemic on young Americans

It’s clear that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected most people’s mental health to one extent or another, but a recent survey sheds a light on a particularly vulnerable segment of the population: adolescents.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a national survey showed that more than four in 10 teens reported feeling “persistently sad or hopeless” in the first half of 2021, and a truly alarming one in five said they had contemplated suicide. The CDC found that the impact was disproportionately felt by female youth, LGBTQ students, and those who were treated unfairly because of their race.

The CDC attributes this mental health crisis to traumatic stressors from the pandemic that erode mental well-being.

“These data echo a cry for help,” said Debra Houry, a deputy director at the CDC.

But the survey results also offered a ray of hope: when schools are functioning at their best, they can provide that help.

Feeling connected and supported at school helps to prevent suicide

For young people who spend the majority of their waking hours at school, it’s unsurprising that there is a strong link between mental health and education. This is a self-reinforcing relationship: students with good mental health do better in school, and doing better in school improves mental health. The danger of a mental health crisis among teens is that it can become a vicious cycle, with poor mental health leading to worse school outcomes that further damage mental health. However, a safe and supportive school environment can be a bulwark against mental health problems in general and suicidality in particular.

That starts with school personnel. Teachers and school administrators can cultivate a safe and supportive environment in many ways, from better classroom management to making sure all students feel welcome regardless of gender, race, or sexual orientation. Schools that cultivate safe environments also connect students with strong support systems, including their parents, teachers, coaches, other adult caregivers, and peers.

Healthcare professionals, too, need to be aware of this growing youth mental health crisis and respond accordingly when treating young patients. That includes asking teens about their family and school relationships in routine health screenings, educating parents, and encouraging positive parenting practices. It also includes recognizing that teens are at elevated risk right now, and they need to take any warning signs of suicide seriously.

Accountability is key to helping prevent teen suicide

While the COVID-19 pandemic certainly did not help, America was facing a youth mental health crisis long before the pandemic. According to the CDC, the percentage of teens who reported “persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness” increased from 26 percent in 2009 to 37 percent in 2019. The pandemic put this in stark relief: in the realm of mental health, we are failing our youth, and much more needs to be done to promote good mental health and prevent suicide.

Part of that work is fighting for answers and accountability when young lives are cut far too short by suicide. If you lost a child or any loved one to suicide, give us a call for a free and confidential consultation. The Law Offices of Skip Simpson is based in Texas and serves families nationwide.