As young people experience pressures at school and use social media more, the number of red flags related to their mental health continues to increase. Be aware and address those warning signs immediately to prevent lives from being lost.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the second-leading cause of death for youth 10 to 14 years old, and the suicide rate in 2020 increased by 20% over the previous year. The CDC notes that nearly 1 in 5 high school students considered suicide during the same period.
Impact of the pandemic
Ashley Zucker, MD, a psychiatrist with Kaiser Permanente in San Bernardino, says going back to in-person learning has been a mental health challenge for many students.
“Returning to the classroom resulted in children seeing others who may have been bullying them remotely,” she said. “It also may have triggered separation or social anxiety being away from their parents and increased their access to illegal substances — which can all add to kids having difficulty keeping their grades up. Children may also feel depressed or suicidal because they see their parents or guardians experiencing challenges returning to the office.”
Kids are not speaking up
There can be many reasons why youth don’t speak up about their mental health, Dr. Zucker noted. Overcoming the stigma of mental illness remains a challenge for young people.
“They do not discuss their issues with their parents or other adults because they’re afraid of the response they may get,” Dr. Zucker explained. “They fear embarrassment or being ignored. Some kids may be afraid of getting in trouble.”
Dr. Zucker emphasized the importance of parents and guardians closely observing their children’s behavior. When unusual behavior is noticed — like changes in eating or sleeping habits, performing poorly in school, or being more withdrawn — immediately open a discussion.
“The worst thing you can do is ignore those red flags,” Dr. Zucker warned. “Checking in on your kids can set the stage for them to share more when they are not feeling good.”
Social media may not be very social
According to Dr. Zucker, social media can positively or negatively impact a young person’s mental health. “Social media can be a way to connect, but it can also be harmful,” she said. “Social media can be one avenue where young people hear more about suicide too.”
Dr. Zucker added that social media may impact self-esteem, where children may judge their self-worth by the number of “likes” they receive. Additionally, social media has created a 24-hour source of information and access to bullying and other forms of victimization that contribute to depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts.
Kaiser Permanente offers tips on suicide prevention and symptoms and mental health. If you or someone you know is having a mental health crisis or thoughts of suicide, call, chat, or text the National Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988.