OSF Psychotherapist's Advice For Parents On Teen Suicide Prevention
A psychotherapist with OSF HealthCare says limiting screen time and open communication are key factors in addressing rising teen suicide rates.
Bernice Gordon-Young, LCPC, has been working with children, teens, and adults for several years. She says that living through a pandemic has taken a toll on everyone, but especially children. From February 2021 to March 2021, weekly visits for suspected suicide attempts among girls 12 to 17 increased by over 50% nationally. OSF HealthCare Children’s Hospital of Illinois in Peoria has seen an increase in emergency department visits as well.
Gordon-Young says among young girls, there’s a higher tendency of constantly comparing yourself to others. This comparison is heightened by the use of social media, which for many has served as the main source of interaction for children and teens isolated from their peers by the pandemic. This lack of in-person support has driven youths to pick up their phones and turn to the comforts of texting other struggling friends, or becoming hyper focused on the “likes” they receive online for validation.
The danger is that “depression and anxiety is contagious,” according to Gordon-Young.
“If you’re already struggling with challenges in those areas, social media exacerbates that challenge,” she says.
Gordon-Young explains it’s important for both children and parents to be educated on the various forms of social media, and to consider that there is a good reason many apps and websites have age limits. Thus, limiting screen time for children, regardless of their age, is crucial when combating issues like depression, anxiety, and suicide, especially as they head back to school.
In addition to limiting screen time, parents who are involved with their child's day to day life and maintain open communication with them play a vital part in assuring and fostering environments that allow children to be happy and healthy.
“Here is what the research has proven: Young adults, young children, teenagers who receive support throughout their high school years are more likely to succeed. They’re also more likely to tell you if there’s something going on with them emotionally,” says Gordon-Young.
At the end of the day, it’s OK to not be OK. The more conversation that happens surrounding depression and suicide, the more normalized it becomes, and this responsibility falls largely on the shoulders of parents and the community to start these tough conversations.
Gordon-Young offers a starting point for parents.
“At minimum through our busy lives, if we can’t check in with them in the morning, we at least check in with them before they go to bed,” she says.