Local mental health experts say the pandemic could lead to more teen suicides

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) – Among the leading causes of death in teenagers, in particular those aged 15 to 19, is suicide.

It’s the second-highest leading cause of death for teens, according to the CDC.

Local experts are saying the pandemic could lead to even more teenagers taking their own lives.

“The risks for suicide include having a sense of hopelessness about the future, a sense of helplessness,” Mayo Clinic Health System pediatric psychologist Sarah Trane said.

The number of teenagers committing suicide in Wisconsin is going in the wrong direction.

According to the CDC, 10.6 out of 100,000 kids aged 15-19 in the state took their own lives in 2016. That gradually rose to 13.8 last year.

The national average is 10.5 per 100,000.

“Something like the pandemic like we’re under now just adds to that increase in stress,” Trane said.

“Isolation plays a big role in impacting depression and anxiety,” La Crosse Area Family YMCA mental health director Sarah Johnson said.

“So, those who are feeling the acute effects of the pandemic are going to be much more at risk of taking their own life,” Trane said.

Both Johnson and Trane say it’s extra important that kids with mental health issues connect with others anyway they can during this time.

“You know, humans are born for connection,” Johnson said. “We literally need other humans to survive.”

Going outside with small groups of people is OK, too.

“Even though we are under in this time of social isolation for protection, that doesn’t mean that every teenager needs to be under quarantine circumstances,” Trane said.

Trane says there haven’t been as many calls from teens regarding suicidal thoughts this summer, but she expects that number to increase in the fall, especially with a countless amount of school districts starting the year online.

“They rise again when kids get into school,” Trane added. “I am concerned that there may be an increased risk for teenagers, again because of the social isolation.”

Trane also says it’s good for teens to get exercise because it reduces anxiety.

If you think you ever need mental support of any kind, there are plenty of resources to help you out. You can call your primary care provider, Great Rivers 2-1-1, or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. The YMCA also has videos on their Facebook and YouTube pages for mental health support.