The Pandemic, Substance Use, and Youth Suicide

The Pandemic, Substance Use, and Youth Suicide

Suicide is now the second leading cause of death among adolescents aged 10 to 24 years old. During the pandemic, depression and suicide concerns have increased among adolescents, especially among females, according to a study published online in the Pediatrics journal. A new CDC study shows that one in four young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 also say they’ve considered suicide in the past month. The study flags a surge of anxiety and substance abuse, with more than 40% of those surveyed saying they experienced a mental or behavioral health condition connected to the Covid-19 emergency. Many youth say that separation from friends and extended family, lack of social recreation outlets, family problems, and loneliness during the pandemic are at fault.

From the moment the coronavirus arrived, it has exposed and deepened every crack in America’s foundation. But when it comes to suicide prevention, the country’s system was already falling apart. Even as suicide rates have fallen globally, they have climbed every year in the United States since 1999 – increasing 35% in the past two decades. Yet, funding and prevention efforts have always lagged far behind those for all other leading causes of death. Then came the pandemic.

Many youth are vulnerable to suicidal ideation, but those with issues of mental health, substance use, foster care, and family/relationship problems and youth who are LGBTQ+ are most at risk. The toxic mix of isolation and economic devastation families have experienced over the past year have caused many to turn to the medicine cabinet for relief, making prescription pills the fastest-growing drug problem in the U.S. About 75% of suicides involve one or more substances (alcohol, drugs).

Youth who feel suicidal are not likely to seek help directly; however, parents, school personnel, and peers can recognize the warning signs and take immediate action to keep the youth safe. When a young person shows signs that they may be considering suicide, the following actions should be taken:

  • Remain calm yourself.
  • Ask the youth directly if he or she is thinking about suicide (e.g., “Are you thinking of suicide?”).
  • Focus on your concern for their well-being and avoid being accusatory.
  • Listen.
  • Reassure them that there is help and they will not feel like this forever.
  • Do not judge.
  • Provide constant supervision. Do not leave the youth alone.
  • Remove means for self-harm.
  • Get help: No one should ever agree to keep a youth’s suicidal thoughts a secret and instead should tell an appropriate caregiving adult, such as a parent, teacher, or school psychologist. Parents should seek help from school or community mental health resources as soon as possible.

Learn more about: preventing youth suicide

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