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A year has passed since Children’s Hospital Colorado first declared a “state of emergency” for youth mental health. At that time, they were flooded with youth needing urgent treatment, mainly for suicidal thoughts and attempts. A year later in May 2022, they continue to see record numbers of children and youth experiencing mental health crises.
Colorado’s increase in numbers for those seeking mental health treatment coincides with a national study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that found 44% of teens in the U.S. feel “persistently sad or hopeless” – up from 37% prior to the pandemic.
What makes teens vulnerable to suicide?
Social isolation is a significant risk factor in the development of suicidal thoughts or suicidal ideation.
“Kids who feel a lack of community or who can’t name a trusted adult in their life are at increased risk,” said Bonnie Graham, LCSW, program manager of STAY SAFE Partnership. “Youth who feel like a burden to their caretakers or to the people around them are also more likely to develop suicidal ideation.”
The pandemic has exacerbated many of the issues that make teens susceptible to suicidality.
“Prior to the pandemic, a study was published that demonstrated that the current generation of adolescents were the most anxious, reporting anxiety at higher levels,” said Graham. “Then you add a pandemic, social, political and racial unrest and all of these big things that have happened in our country for the past two and a half years and this increases that level of anxiety even more.”
Suicide does not discriminate, and anyone can be at risk. One major risk factor is experiencing a mental health issue like depression, anxiety or trauma. Risks can increase during a global crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic, as kids were more likely to experience the feeling of social and emotional isolation which can have a huge impact of depressive symptoms overall.
What can parents or caregivers do?
First and foremost, talk to your children about suicide.
“I think parents are so hesitant to talk to their kids about suicide because they think it’s attention seeking or a phase, but we want to show kids that we believe them when they say they are thinking about suicide,” remarked Graham. “We know that asking a child if they are having thoughts of hurting themselves or thoughts of dying does not put the idea in their head.”
Graham advises to look for the following, too:
- A drastic change in mood
- Increased isolation (stops seeing friends, avoids school)
- Change in sleep (sleeping all day, having a hard time waking up, difficulty sleeping)
- Decline in engagement in school and other social activities (e.g. a change in grades)
We can help.
STAY SAFE Partnership is a WellPower program for youth ages 12-19 who have experienced a recent suicide attempt or severe suicidal ideation. The program offers an alternative to an inpatient setting and provides intensive treatment in families’ homes and communities to serve them where they are. STAY SAFE Partnership serves youth in Denver County.
The program is a first of its kind in Colorado and consists of a multidisciplinary team made up of a therapist, clinical case manager and a psychiatrist who all work to support the youth and their family. The program also provides three months of follow-up to reduce any barriers to continued access for mental health services.
Involving families is a cornerstone of this program and their involvement in treatment can make a huge difference. STAY SAFE Partnership uses evidence-based treatment plans that include individual and family sessions, as well as sessions that bring youth and their families together with the treatment team.
To get connected to the STAY SAFE Partnership, please call (303) 504-7900.
If you are experiencing a crisis, please contact the Colorado Crisis Services to access a trained counselor via phone, 844-493-TALK (8255) or text TALK to 38255 or visit a walk-in clinic. Visit www.coloradocrisisservices.org for more information.