Suicide is a leading cause of death among young people in the United States. Rates of youth suicide deaths were rising before the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic began, so it is critical to understand how the pandemic impacted this public health crisis. In a new study supported by the National Institute of Mental Health, researchers examined national youth suicide trends and characteristics in the United States before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A research team led by Jeffrey Bridge, Ph.D., Donna Ruch, Ph.D., and Lisa Horowitz, Ph.D., MPH, analyzed national suicide data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The researchers first identified all U.S. youth aged 5 to 24 years with suicide listed as the cause of death over the first 10 months of the pandemic (March 1, 2020–December 31, 2020). They calculated the total and monthly suicide deaths overall and by sex, age, race and ethnicity, and suicide method. Then, they examined how many young people died by suicide during the first 10 months of the pandemic and compared it to an estimated number of suicide deaths during that same period had the pandemic not occurred (calculated using data from the previous 5 years).
The researchers identified 5,568 youth who died by suicide during the first 10 months of the pandemic, which was higher than the expected number of deaths had the pandemic not occurred. Higher than expected suicide rates were found a few months into the pandemic, starting in July 2020.
The increase in suicide deaths varied significantly by sex, age, race and ethnicity, and suicide method. During the pandemic, there were higher than expected suicide deaths among males, preteens aged 5–12 years, young adults aged 18–24 years, non-Hispanic American Indian or Alaskan Native youth, and non-Hispanic Black youth as compared to before the pandemic. Suicide deaths involving firearms were also higher than expected.
The significantly higher number of suicide deaths reported for certain racial and ethnic groups, specifically non-Hispanic American Indian or Alaskan Native and non-Hispanic Black youth, highlights ongoing disparities in rates of suicide that the pandemic may have exacerbated. The increase in suicide deaths among preteens also suggests that more attention may need to be paid to this age group, who tend to be understudied in suicide prevention research and have different developmental needs than older adolescents and young adults.
This research is only a first step in examining the pandemic’s impact on youth mental health and points to several areas for further investigation. First, it is possible that other events or factors unrelated to the pandemic that occurred during the study’s time frame contributed to the rise in youth suicide deaths but were unmeasured. Second, research is still needed to identify the underlying causes of the increase in youth suicide deaths, both overall and for specific groups. Third, the COVID-19 pandemic period analyzed in this study was limited to 10 months in 2020 and does not reflect longer-term trends in youth suicide that may have changed as the pandemic wore on. Last, suicide deaths for some groups may have been underreported due to inaccurate or misclassified data; ongoing monitoring of suicide rates will help clarify the suicide risk faced by young people in the United States.
This study shows that the pandemic impacted youth suicide rates, but the impact was not the same for everyone and varied based on sex, age, and race and ethnicity. As such, the authors suggest that it may be helpful to broadly implement suicide prevention efforts in settings that serve young people, while also tailoring those efforts to address the disparities faced by specific groups. Moreover, given the extended duration of the pandemic and its ongoing impact on young people in the United States, it will be important to monitor long-term trends in suicide rates associated with COVID-19 and identify factors driving the increased risk for suicide among some people.
DGS continues to experience steady growth. The agency is large enough to make an impact in the community, yet not too big to lose a caring work environment where employees can make a difference. With the wide variety of positions and programs, employees have several options to develop their careers.
Our employees tell us Delaware Guidance Services (DGS) is a great place to work. There is opportunity for work-life balance, challenging work, and a supportive and stimulating work environment. Employees at DGS have a great opportunity to make a significant impact in the lives of children throughout the state of Delaware, on the agency, and within their careers.
We offer a comprehensive and competitive benefits package to our employees, including:
Incentive pay plan for certain clinical staff positions
Medical and dental insurance
Health savings accounts (HSAs)
Life, AD&D, LTD, STD
Paid vacation, sick, and holidays
403(b) plan with match and generous contribution
Employee contributions are required for some benefits. Delaware Guidance Services is an Equal Opportunity Employer
The events of the past few years have literally changed the brains of our young people, prematurely aging them in ways we used to primarily see in children suffering from violence or neglect. And while the brain is capable of healing itself, especially through treatment, it’s hard to undo trauma altogether, leaving the COVID generation with historic rates of depression, anxiety and also hopelessness.
In psychology, we define hope as the belief that you can achieve your aims coupled with the motivation to do so. It’s easy to see, then, why hope—or its absence—can deeply impact areas like academic achievement, success at work, the quality of one’s relationship and even health outcomes. What’s more, studies have shown that hopelessness perpetuates depression and anxiety—a link we desperately need to break.There’s no quota cap on crisis, and we can safely bet this won’t be the last time young people face upheaval and uncertainty. They’ll need hope to weather whatever disruption comes next, and we can help them grasp it by teaching them to see themselves as capable agents of change.Unfortunately, increased political partisanship and the ongoing culture wars we’ve allowed to infiltrate our educational system are pushing hope further from reach. Studies have shown that exposure to charged political events, which have become commonplace on K-12 and college campuses alike, are directly connected to experiencing negative emotions and increased stress. Just witnessing partisan politics is enough to activate a fight-or-flight nervous system response.
It’s hard to feel hopeful in a world where we (the grown-ups) can’t even agree on basic facts. Rather than being ground zero for political discord, our schools and colleges at all levels need to be places where students learn that even seemingly impossible challenges can be overcome and that different viewpoints that make us uncomfortable can help us get to a better outcome—that there is a path forward.
The good news is, our brains are malleable and can learn (or re-learn) through strategies or interventions to become more hopeful and optimistic. In fact, many strategies we already use to support overall well-being have also been shown to strengthen a hopeful mind-set. Unfortunately, well-being initiatives for students—while being widely accepted as a necessary step to ending the mental health crisis—have also become another political target, which is making it hard for schools to find middle-ground solutions.
We’d like to thank all who came out to celebrate our partnership (and new space) at the Community Building. This new collaboration only strengthens our ability to provide quality behavioral health services for our Delaware youth and their families.
Delaware Guidance Services for Children and Youth, Inc. (DGS) received a donation of $25,000 from the American Gift Fund. The funds will be used to support critical behavioral health services for children and youth in Delaware.
In a press release Jill Rogers, executive director of DGS said, “We are so grateful to the American Gift Fund for their generous donation. Children and families are facing unprecedented challenges as they learn and grow. Now more than ever, donations such as these will help us serve more children who are struggling or who might be experiencing a mental health crisis.”
DGS is Delaware’s largest provider of outpatient behavioral health services to children and families. With offices in Wilmington, Newark, Dover, Lewes, and Seaford, DGS clinicians treat a wide range of diagnoses including depression, anxiety, mood disorders, eating disorders, traumatic stress-related disorders, and suicidal ideation. DGS serves children and youth up through age 18 and provides care to anyone in need, regardless of insurance status or ability to pay for care.
A recent survey by the RCMP found that 31% of Canadian youth say they have been cyberbullied before. That’s an increase of 17%, which can be blamed on the pandemic, a time in which kids’ screen time soared.
With kids back to school, cyberbullying will become a hot topic once again.
You can’t make a mean person less awful so how can parents, teachers and other concerned adults keep their children safe?
We spoke with experts Dr. Howard Pratt, a psychiatrist and behavioral health medical director at Community Health of South Florida Inc., and Dr. Sara Goldstein, a professor of human development and family sciences at the University of Delaware, who specializes in bullying during childhood and adolescence.
“Because so much of what we do is online, there’s always that space available for someone to message someone negatively online or in a public space and bully another person,” Dr. Pratt tells the Toronto Sun.
“It’s really not a matter of staying safe but rather how to say safer,” he explains. “So, if there is a platform or space online that you learn is a place where bullying is taking place and affecting your child, then much in the same way you do when you learn there is a geographic location where crimes take place, you know you don’t want your kid there and you don’t let them go there.”
That’s easier said than done since parents and teachers can’t protect kids at all times. But adults can watch out for signs. Like bullying, the signs of cyberbullying are similar.
“Often there is a sense of embarrassment by the victim and the kid will try to hide that the bullying is going on,” Dr. Pratt says. “You may notice signs of withdrawal, symptoms of depression and anxiety despite the source coming from someone who is not physically present in your child’s life.”
Depending on the situation — and every situation is different — there are plans that can be implemented for an effective intervention.
“If the bullying is happening on a particular platform, you have to consider risk versus reward when it comes to eliminating it,” suggests Pratt, but warns that parents have to be very sensitive when making these decisions.
“When kids are bullied, whether the bully is someone they know or is a complete stranger, it calls into question so many things for that child,” he explains.
“The kid may ask themself, ‘Is this the way the world is?’ ‘Is this normal?’ ‘What’s wrong with me that this is happening?’
“So, you want to minimize exposure to bullying whether it’s coming from someone they actually know, or whether it’s coming from a complete stranger.”
As far as protecting kids as best as possible, Dr. Goldstein suggests setting clear guidelines and parameters for online behaviour, limiting time online access to devices, and maintaining positive, open relationships with them.
“When kids feel that they can open up to the important adults in their lives, they are more likely to share with them when something challenging is happening,” she says.
“You can never really be 100 per cent safe from cyberbullying,” admits Dr. Pratt. “Bad people are out there who will say and do bad things and we don’t have control of them.”
He suggests getting spyware to find out what your children are up to online.
“It’s better to be safe than sorry,” he says. “You want to know who is communicating with your kids, what they are saying, and most critically, discern the intent behind that messaging, which a child may not be able to fully grasp.”
Attention Mental Health Professionals – Register for two-day training on “Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills”, led by Ellery Parker III, a licensed professional counselor of mental health for the State of Delaware.
Course Level: Intermediate Social Workers, Counselors, Psychologists, Mental Health Professionals (ACE #: 1726NBCC ACEP #: 6655)
Meet the Facilitator
Ellery Parker III is a licensed professional counselor of mental health for the State of Delaware. Ellery received his Master’s in Mental Health Counseling in 2012 and became fully licensed in 2014. Ellery has served in multiple clinical roles during his professional development that included community-based services (OP/TSF, FBMHS) and has supervised school-based counselors, outpatient therapists, master-and doctoral-level students, and is currently the Kent County MRSS supervisor. Ellery has served in multiple leadership roles, has been published, and is currently working on his PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision, specializing in a dual concentration –Consultation and Program Development.
Identify the 4 components of DBT
Provide psycho-education to adolescents & families re. DBT
Identify & utilize DBT interventions
Define “Walking the Middle Path”
Provide psycho-education to families re Walking the Middle Path
Identify and utilize at least 1 new intervention with adolescents & families from “Walking the Middle Path”
Details & Registration
Live in Dover
DBT Skills Part 1 (September 21 or October 1)
DBT Skills Part 2 (October 19 or November 2)
All trainings are scheduled from 9am-12pm
Registration is required and must attend both parts
Training presented by: Delaware Guidance Services for Children and Youth, Inc.
As parents or guardians, we tend to react quickly when our children’s physical health is in question. If children show physical symptoms, get injured, or express they don’t feel right, we immediately ask questions and seek medical guidance and care. Parents and guardians are also pros at prevention — making sure children get vaccines and wellness exams and keeping an eye out for anything unusual that may indicate they are sick or hurt. That same level of attention and action for prevention and treatment is critical to supporting children’s mental health.
Many children will experience a mental health and/or substance use problem before age 18. In a survey of 80,000 youth around the world, 1 in 4 reported depressive symptoms and 1 in 5 experienced anxiety symptoms. Those rates are double what they were before the pandemic and we also know that more children have experienced trauma in response to COVID-19. The good news is that there are things that caregivers can do to help promote children’s mental wellbeing. Children thrive in the presence of thriving adults who support them in co-regulation and processing their emotions. When a child has an emotionally healthy, caring adult in their life, it can help buffer against stress and help them to navigate experiences with resilience.
Anyone can be that adult for a child and make a real difference in their life. How? One of the easiest ways is for caregivers to talk with the children in their care — naturally, regularly, and intentionally as a part of daily life. Ask how they are feeling in general and about specific situations, like an upcoming social gathering or recent world event. These talks can take place in the car, standing in line, or at the dinner table. Be an active listener and show interest in all aspects of their life and the things that matter to them. And don’t hesitate to talk with them if you are concerned about their mental health and ask whether they are thinking about or planning suicide. If you are concerned about a child in crisis, you should call the 24/7 Child Crisis Line, also known as Mobile Resource Stabilization Service, at 1-800-969-HELP (4357).
In addition to a caring adult, research shows that prevention and treatment programs do work and there are resources available to help children and their families through the Delaware Children’s Department Division of Prevention and Behavioral Health Services and the Department of Education and local schools.
The Division of Prevention and Behavioral Health Services provides free summer prevention programs for children and teens that promote resilience, develop positive relationships with peers and adults and build life skills. Families and community members can contact the division’s Prevention Helpline to learn about these services by calling (302) 633-2680, Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., or by email at PBHS_Prevention_Inquiries@delaware.gov. You can click here to see the current catalogue of programs. You can also visit DPBHS’ website to learn more about covered treatment services.
Delaware schools support children through wellness promotion, monitoring for early warning signs, and screening for risks. Students may access group and individualized supports for building social and emotional skills. The state’s Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Wellbeing Plan provides infrastructure for this response system, integrating the innovations from Project DelAWARE — designed to reduce the stigma associated with mental health access — and Project THRIVE — which contracts directly with mental health provider organizations to offer trauma-specific interventions for ALL uninsured and under-insured students, regardless of whether they attend public or private schools demonstration project funded by the US Department of Education. Both of these programs have increased mental health equity for children and youth across our state. Students or parents and caregivers on their behalf can learn more by calling 211 or texting their zip code to 898-211.
—Delaware Online Mark Holodick and Josette Manning – Special to the USA TODAY Network
Mark Holodick is Secretary of Education. Josette Manning is Secretary of the Department of Services for Children, Youth and their Families.
The change was gradual. At first, Riana Alexander was always tired. Then she began missing classes. She had been an honors student at her Arizona high school, just outside Phoenix. But last winter, after the isolation of remote learning, then the overload of a full-on return to school, her grades were slipping. She wasn’t eating a lot. She avoided friends.
Her worried mother searched for mental health treatment. Finally, in the spring, a three-day-a-week intensive program for depression helped the teenager steady herself and “want to get better,” Alexander said. Then, as she was finding her way, a girl at her school took her own life. Then a teen elsewhere in the district did the same. Then another.
“It just broke my heart that there were three different people who were going through what I was, and they never got the chance to heal,” said Alexander, 17, now a high school senior.
After that devastating stretch in May, families and classmates in the Chandler Unified School District mourned the three 15-year-olds. They would enjoy no more summer vacations, no birthdays or graduations. The losses ignited a debate about what schools should be doing to support students in despair.
Nationally, adolescent depression and anxiety — already at crisis levels before the pandemic — have surged amid the isolation, disruption and hardship of covid-19. Even as federal coronavirus relief money has helped schools step up their efforts to aid students, they also have come up short. It’s unclear how much money is going to mental health, how long such efforts will last or if they truly reach those who struggle most.
“The need is real, the need is dire,” said Alberto Carvalho, superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, who recalled hearing just that day from the district’s mental health partners that calls about suicidal thoughts had quadrupled. “We’re living through historically unprecedented times,” he said.
More than 75 percent of schools surveyed in spring said their teachers and staff have voiced concerns about student depression, anxiety and trauma, according to federal data. Nearly as many schools cited a jump in the number of students seeking mental health services.
But mental health is not the only pandemic priority. Schools are spending vast sums of their coronavirus relief money on ventilation upgrades, expanded summer learning, after-school programs, tutors and academic specialists.
The federal spending plans of 5,000 school districts nationally show that more than one-third intend to bring new mental health professionals into schools, and about 30 percent plan to fund social-emotional learning efforts, according to an analysis by FutureEd, a think tank at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy.
“This is an incredible increase in the amount of money being spent and the number of districts pursuing it,” Phyllis Jordan, associate director of FutureEd said. But it is still, advocates say, not nearly enough.
“We simply don’t have enough people in our profession to meet the need.”
— Kelsey Theis, president of the Texas Association of School Psychologists
In many areas, even when money is in hand, hiring is not easy. As this school year opened, nearly 20 percent of schools reported vacancies in mental health positions, according to federal data. Schools often said they employed too few staff to manage the caseload but also complained about difficulties finding licensed providers, the data showed.
“We simply don’t have enough people in our profession to meet the need,” said Kelsey Theis, president of the Texas Association of School Psychologists. When families seek private therapists, “sometimes there’s a wait list of months and months before they get help,” she said.
In Maine, waiting lists grew so long last year that school counselor Tara Kierstead began looking out of state for therapists who had openings — a solution that was not practical for many families.
“It was the hardest I’ve ever had to work to get resources to people,” Kierstead said. “I know some kids who were never seen.”
Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy called out the “devastating” effects of the pandemic on youth mental health in a public advisory last December. Earlier that year, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the Children’s Hospital Association together declared “a national state of emergency” in children’s mental health. They pointed out that young people of color were especially affected and linked the struggle for racial justice to the worsening crisis.
Hospital emergency room visits spiked for suspected suicide attempts among girls ages 12 to 17, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. From February to March 2021, the number jumped by 51 percent compared with the same period during 2019. For boys, the increase was 4 percent. Early research from MIT suggested the suicide rate for people aged 10 to 19 increased in 2020, compared with before the pandemic. More recently, CDC provisional data for 2021 showed an increase in the national rate from 2020 to 2021, especially for people ages 15 to 24.
In other research, the CDC found nearly 45 percent of high school students were so persistently sad or hopeless in 2021 they were unable to engage in regular activities. Almost 1 in 5 seriously considered suicide, and 9 percent of the teenagers surveyed by the CDC tried to take their lives during the previous 12 months. A substantially larger percentage of gay, lesbian, bisexual, other and questioning students reported a suicide attempt.
Family upheaval, meanwhile, was widespread, particularly in the early pandemic: Nearly 30 percent of students said an adult in their home had lost a job, and 24 percent said they went hungry for a lack of food.
There are no directly comparable pre-pandemic studies, but Kathleen Ethier, the CDC’s director of the division of adolescent and school health, said student well-being is significantly better for teens who report feeling connected to their schools — a problem for a population that, nationwide, was kept out of them for so long.
“There is 20 years of research showing that it not only has an impact on how young people do while they’re adolescents, but it has 20-year impacts on all kinds of measures of health,” including emotional well-being, suicidality and substance use, she said.
It also left many children grieving. More than 230,000 U.S. students under 18 are believed to be mourning the ultimate loss: the death of a parent or primary caregiver in a pandemic-related loss, according to research by the CDC, Imperial College London, Harvard University, Oxford University and the University of Cape Town. In the United States, children of color were hit the hardest, another study found. It estimated that the loss for Black and Hispanic children was nearly twice the rate for White children.
Too much need, too little help
In Maryland, Julia Horton, 16, recalls that, as her struggles worsened last year, she fell asleep in class a lot and did not turn in work; her grades dropped. Looking back, she said, “it is very obvious it was a cry for help.” Some teachers were compassionate, but others less so. “A lot of teachers talk about understanding mental illness, but they don’t act upon it,” she said.
Her school in suburban Montgomery County had two mental health professionals within its wellness center, county officials said, but Horton — like many students — had no idea. She talked to a counselor she liked about getting more time for assignments but it did not help. Her mother ultimately found her an excellent therapist to help Horton with her depression and anxiety, but she wonders about other teens who may not be as fortunate.
Montgomery County school officials said they inform students about mental health services through community messages, their website, student forums and advisory period lessons — though school board member Lynne Harris said messaging should be more robust and focused on platforms students use most.
In Philadelphia, Mikayla Jones, then 15, took care of her father in spring 2020 when he caught covid-19 and she had little contact with teachers and friends during remote learning. She wanted to talk to a therapist, but her mother couldn’t find one with an opening and she’d never heard of any mental health specialist at school. “I feel like this should not be something that’s possible,” she said. Now a 17-year-old senior, Jones is starting a club to advocate for mental health support across Philadelphia’s schools. “All youth deserve someone to be there for them.”
Philadelphia officials said counselors were meeting with students virtually or in person during the pandemic to assess their needs and help decide next steps. Still, the high school senior never found a therapist. The first meeting of her mental health support club will be later this month.
Told about the school system’s comment, the teenager said: “If the school does not communicate the availability of counselors, and their role as counselor has been repeatedly labeled as ‘college counselor,’ then how will we know that they are there as a mental health resource?”
National research from 2019 showed that students of color have not received equal access to school counselors. At that time, 38 states were shortchanging students of color, students from low-income families or both, according to the study done by the Education Trust.
As the pandemic has persisted, students have spoken out — in Nebraska, Arizona, Connecticut and Washington.
In Seattle, students who formed the Seattle Student Union to promote racial justice decided this year to push for mental health support in schools. Chetan Soni, a 17-year-old who co-founded the union, said there are too few mental health professionals to meet rising student needs. The district told him it doesn’t have the money, he said.
Seattle teachers, who went on strike in September, included a call for more mental health support for students as one of their bargaining points. The strike settlement included part-time social workers at most schools — a sign of progress, Soni said, but not enough to help all. “Students are suffering from the pandemic and so many other things too,” he said.
His school, Lincoln High, is fortunate in having a school-based health clinic, run by Neighborcare Health. But just one therapist works there, said Rachel Gordon, the company’s school-based mental health clinical manager. Nearly all therapists based at Seattle’s schools have full caseloads and wait lists, Gordon said. Many run group therapy sessions as a way to serve more students. “We’ve seen increases in anxiety, disordered eating, suicidal ideation, OCD and many other mental health challenges,” she said.
In rural Montana, the squeeze was different: Altacare, a for-profit provider, decided to halt services in the state this year amid recruitment difficulties and funding issues. Districts scrambled to cover for the loss, but many could not, and state officials were limited in what they could do. “Unfortunately, they were serving a lot of the very small rural schools that were already struggling,” said Mary Windecker, executive director of the nonprofit Behavioral Health Alliance of Montana.
The shortages meant that Montana kids who needed residential care, for the most serious mental illnesses, were mostly being sent to other states, she said. “Not because we don’t have beds for those children but because we don’t have people to staff those kids,” she said. “Imagine a six-year-old with a serious emotional disturbance being sent as far away as Georgia. That’s happening.”
National test scores also plummeted to levels not seen since 1999, according to recent data — setting off a wave of alarm among educators, many of whom consider the mental health crisis a contributing factor.
Delaware Public Media | By Rachel Sawicki | Published August 3, 2022 at 6:16 PM EDT
Gov. John Carney (D) signed 3 mental health bills, implementing more proactive measures to treat mental illness.
Legislators and stakeholders gathered at Sean’s House in Newark for the bill signings. The organization opened its doors in 2020, and has saved 61 young adults from a suicidal situation while speaking with more than 30,000 people concerning mental health and suicide awareness over the past 3 years.
State Rep. Valerie Longhurst (D-Bear) prime sponsor to the package of bills, says Sean’s House is an example of the approach lawmakers hope Delaware continues to take to addressing mental health early.
“This extraordinary nonprofit organization offers access to trained peer support specialists and community health resources,” she said. “A location to do schoolwork, a place to meet friends. By having a location young adults feel safe, welcomed, supported.”
One bill, HB 300, establish mental health service units for Delaware middle schools. over the next three years, it will boost the number of mental health professionals in middle schools to have one full-time school counselor, school social worker, or licensed clinical social worker for every 250 students and one school psychologist for every 700 students.
The bill is similar to one signed last year, which did the same in elementary schools an Longhurst says more is in the works.
“So today, we’re moving upstream and doing preventative measures in the state of Delaware,” Longhurst said. “We can no longer afford to go downstream. So today we are unlocking that light and we are going to make a difference and we will make it happen. And you will see next year I will be bringing forth another set of mental health issues or legislation and all these people behind me will be with me.”
Two other bills will implement statewide mental health educational programs for grades K-12 and will require insurance carriers to cover an annual wellness check, starting at the beginning of 2023.
“Every dollar invested in mental health can yield up to 10 times the savings in healthcare, criminal and juvenile justice and lost productivity,” Longhurst said.
Coverage for annual wellness checks begin at the beginning of 2023.