Teen suicide spike a reminder to engage and stay connected during these perilous, isolating times
The teen and young adult years are all about anticipation and angst; self-discovery and self-doubt.
For some, though, the toll of adolescence can leave them wondering about their place. In the COVID-19 atmosphere, some have become lonely, isolated, depressed, even desperate.
Local mental health and youth advocates are particularly distressed over those for whom these turbulent times have left them in such despair they are unable to see their place in this world.
MatForce Executive Director Merilee Fowler said she is alarmed by recent teen suicide statistics in Yavapai County. Between May and December 2020, Fowler said there were four suicide deaths of teenagers under age 18 and one who was 19 — all but one of those was in Prescott. The year before there was one suicide death of an 18-year-old and two 19-year-olds. In 2020, there were eight other suicide deaths in the 20-29 age category; the year before there were two.
Local help is available
- West Yavapai Guidance Clinic offers a variety of mental health programs for youth and adults, and their Crisis Stabilization Unit in Prescott Valley is open 24-hours-a-day to anyone who needs assistance, with or without insurance.
- Spectrum Health Care, 877-634-7333, spectrumhealthcare-group.com
- Terros Health Care offers mobile crisis care, 877-756-4090, terroshealth.org/mobile-crisis
- The Launch Pad Teen Center, 928-227-0758, thelaunchpadteencenter.org
- MatForce, 928-708-0100, matforce.org
“This is a significant increase,” Fowler said of deaths in the younger age range. “We need to be waving the flag and thinking about what we are doing.”
In total, Fowler said, Yavapai County saw a reduction in suicide deaths — 71 in 2020 versus 98 the year before.
Still, Fowler and her fellow teen advocates and area mental health professionals are adamant that any suicide death is one too many.
WHAT TO DO?
One of Fowler’s suggestions is “time travel.”
“When someone is thinking about ending their life, what can we talk to them to help them look forward to the future, to help them take the steps they need to go to where they want to be,” Fowler said.
Launch Pad Teen Center Founder and Executive Director Courtney Osterfelt said her agency has been opening its doors every day to teens from throughout the quad-city area during distance learning to offer teens a place to come and study, play and be surrounded by positive influences.
When they are not engaged in remote lessons, Osterfelt said teens are required to shut down their computers and turn off their phones. They are encouraged to get outdoors, even if it’s just a short break to stretch and breath, she said. They are encouraged to join in group activities to tap into their creative talents and curiosity.
“We want them engaging with humans,” Osterfelt said.
One 14-year-old boy crafted a video message where he said, “The Launch Pad is good for my brain. I can just tell. I make new friends. The adults care about me. I just feel happy.”
In these times like no other, Osterfelt said she and her staff want the center to be a force for good in teens’ lives — a place where they feel welcome, wanted and allowed to be who they are and feel what they feel without judgment.
“No matter what the age person-to-person engagement improves mental health,” Osterfelt said.
In talking with parents, Osterfelt encourages them to talk with their teens by asking open-ended questions without judging the response. Sometimes all a teen needs is this invitation: “Come sit with me.”
“We need to teach our kids the emotional literacy to ask for what they need,” Osterfelt said.
COVID-19 causing ADDITIONAL STRAIN
“We can safely say that 100% of people have worried and experienced different levels of stress, for some reason or another, because of how this pandemic has impacted our everyday life,” said West Yavapai Guidance Clinic Chief Clinical Officer who is also the head of the Yavapai County Suicide Prevention Coalition.
“Back in March of last year, everyone really thought that the population that was going to be most impacted by this pandemic was the older population given the struggle with isolation. However, on a national level, we are actually seeing the younger population (ages 11-24) being more severely impacted. This is not meant to suggest that other age groups have not seen significant stress and loss over the past year, but rather, the damage to the development of the brain, cognitively, socially and emotionally, this has been devastating to the younger ages.
In addition to an increase in substance use, the most common mental health challenges that people are struggling with are depression and anxiety, Legler said. While these can be easily managed with a little professional support and guidance, they can also spiral out of control if ignored or minimized.”
“Because anxiety and depression are a direct link to suicidal thoughts, as well as the feeling of isolation, we need to do more to support each other and connect each other to services and resources,” Legler said. “With online learning, teachers can only do so much — their superhero capes have limits, so working together as a community to support our kids is truly critical in saving lives.”
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