NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — September is National Suicide Prevention Month, and as we head into a new and unusual school year, health experts are concerned about suicide rates among children.
Stephanie Osler, director of the mental health service line at Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters, told WAVY they’re “seeing an increase of children in crisis coming into our emergency department.”
Teen suicide was already on the rise before COVID-19 and the social distancing that comes with it.
“Now that COVID is with us, I think we’ve seen an increase in attempts and potential death by suicide,” Osler said.
The data is still being collected, but Osler predicts suicide attempts could be double pre-coronavirus numbers.
“Suicide, depression, anxiety, it’s not just a feeling, it’s actually something that actually sort of takes over when it becomes clinically significant,” Osler said.
With most children learning from home, she fears signs of issues teachers often notice might now be missed.
“So, it’s really important that we check in frequently right now with our kids and find out how they’re doing,” Osler said.
She advises parents to look for big behavior changes such as considerable mood swings, changes in eating or sleeping patterns that last longer than a couple of weeks, and refusal to engage with family and friends.
“When you start to think that there is something going on, it’s time to reach out for help,” she said.
That is when you should call your pediatrician. Don’t assume it’s a phase. Make sure they’re getting fresh air and sunshine and time with friends — even if it’s playing an online video game — and practicing mindfulness.
Osler explained, “Its really just a guided moment where you take five minutes out of your day and stop and be present.”
Often, mindfulness is centered around breathing but there are mindfulness games kids can play.
Apps like Calm and Headspace can help, Many apps have waived fees during COVID-19.
If your child is expressing suicidal thoughts, it’s important to seek emergency care immediately. If you are concerned that your child may be suicidal, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or call 911 if there is an emergency.
For questions about mental health services at CHKD, call 757-668-HOPE (4673) or visit their website for more information at www.chkd.org/mentalhealth.
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