Before the pandemic, teen suicide rates in the United States were already alarmingly high. In an article in Psychology Today, licensed psychologist Sandra M. Chafouleas writes that every year, more than two thousand teens die by suicide. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this makes suicide “the second leading cause of death among high school-aged youths 14–18 years after unintentional injuries.” In fact, in 2019, one in five high school students considered suicide, according to CDC data. Additionally, one in six of those students had made a plan to attempt suicide. One in eleven had actually made a suicide attempt. From this data, it’s clear that suicidal ideation is a desperate crisis among American teenagers — a crisis dramatically heightened by the pandemic. As students spend most of their time at school or learning virtually, it’s critical that schools identify and assist teens who may be considering suicide or self-harm. Technology plays an essential role in this process. When it comes to teen suicide and the pandemic, screen monitoring software saves lives.
The Pandemic and Teen Mental Health
Katie Evans, a counselor in Oklahoma City, told Oklahoma’s KFOR news station that there’s been a significant increase in rates of teen depression. “There are so many people who are wanting services right now,” Evans told KFOR. Moreover, counselors are so busy that it’s become “hard to find someone with an opening.” Evans mentions numerous reasons for this uptick in teen depression, including the difficulty of distance learning and extended periods of isolation from their peers. Indeed, Mental Health America (MHA), a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting mental health and wellness, has also reported an increase in teen depression during the pandemic. MHA offers free screening tests for a variety of mental health conditions. Since the pandemic’s start in March, MHA reports that 83% of those between the ages of 11 and 17 who took their screening tests were at risk for anxiety. Additionally, 91% were at risk for depression.
Suicidal Ideation During the Pandemic
Along with increases in teen depression and anxiety, mental health professionals have also seen an increase in suicidal ideation. The CDC performed a survey of Americans regarding their mental health during the pandemic. The CDC data revealed a significant increase in symptoms of depression and anxiety. It also revealed an increase in suicidal ideation, especially among younger respondents. Compared to older respondents, more than twice as many people between the ages of 18 to 24 — one in four, in fact — had “‘seriously considered’” suicide in the past 30 days. According to youth psychologist Lisa Damour, this relates directly to social isolation during the pandemic. “Teenagers are in a developmental space where it is critically important that they have regular contact with their peers and are able to develop close and ongoing relationships with adults outside the home, such as their teachers, their coaches, their advisers,” Dr. Darmour told NPR in September of 2020. The pandemic disrupted these kinds of contacts, leading Dr. Darmour to “worry very much” about vulnerable teens.
Teen Suicide and Self-Harm During the Pandemic
Nationwide, mental health practitioners report a significant rise in referrals for teens. In an interview with ABC7 San Francisco’s news team, psychologist Christine Garcia described the dire situation. “We’ve had 65 to 70 referrals for just 20 beds,” Dr. Garcia told ABC7. In the same news story, Dr. Liz Siliato described what she’d seen in her workplace, an emergency room for young people experiencing mental health crises. Dr. Siliato stated that “we’re experiencing self-harm and suicidal ideation and youth that are attempting.”
In Missouri, the rates of suicide by gunshot were already high among teens due to legal changes making firearms more accessible. In 2014, for instance, a change in the law lowered the age for concealed carry permits to nineteen. Afterwards, according to St. Louis Public Radio, the number of teens who died by gun suicide increased by 32%. Psychiatrists who treat younger patients worry the pandemic will only exacerbate this tragic situation. In an interview with Kansas City’s PBS station, Dr. Mitchell Douglass worries that teens aren’t getting treatment early enough because their parents fear that they’ll be exposed to COVID-19 at mental health facilities. Moreover, since the start of the pandemic, Dr. Douglass and his colleagues have seen an increase in serious suicide attempts. Dr. Douglass stresses the importance of identifying teens who need help and helping them to get treatment early.
Screen Monitoring on School Computers Saves Lives
Teenagers are dying of suicide at a higher rate than ever before. Whether they’re learning in the classroom or at home, young people spend most of their time doing schoolwork. Therefore, schools must play a significant role in monitoring students’ mental health and getting teens the help they need. With distance learning and mask-wearing, it can be more difficult for teachers to evaluate a student’s mood. Installing screen monitoring software like LearnSafe on school computers is more essential now than ever. LearnSafe can detect threats of suicide and self-harm — and, in several cases, LearnSafe has saved lives. In a little over two months, LearnSafe detected twenty incidents of students expressing an intention to self-harm in a single district. LearnSafe also helped schools identify students considering suicide, allowing them to get the help that they needed. In one such instance, a school counselor told LearnSafe “you may have saved a life today.” Teen suicide is an alarming crisis for which schools must be prepared. With LearnSafe, schools can make sure that vulnerable students get the help that they need — before it’s too late.