Suicide rates among Seattle-area youth up 30 percent during pandemic

In 2019, youth suicides accounted for 8.33 percent of the county's suicides, now youth suicide comprises 38.46 percent of the total suicides.

Ari Hoffman Seattle WA

As teen suicide rates spike across the country in the wake of Covid-19 shutdowns and restrictions, new public disclosure documents reveal a spike in the youth suicide rate in Seattle and King County Washington.

According to documents obtained through a public disclosure request, as of November 23, 2020 suicide rates among Seattle youth rose almost 30 percent. In 2019, youth suicides accounted for 8.33 percent of the county's suicides, now youth suicide comprises 38.46 percent of the total suicides.

Suicides in male youth increases across King County by almost 11 percent. The age groups of 11, 14 and 15 did not have any recorded suicides in the county in 2019, but in 2020 accounted for 7.69 percent, 38.46 percent and 15.38 percent respectively.

Beth Daranciang, former Child Death Review coordinator for King County told The Post Millennial, "Youth suicide is rare in larger cities and much more likely in suburbs, small towns and rural areas where kids can be more isolated. I also noticed that places where there were youth homicides, there were few youth suicides. Seattle having multiple youth suicides in one year is definitely unusual." When asked what she believed was contributing to the rise in the rates Darancing said "Kids are hit hardest by the isolation."

According to a study from the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, children and adolescents now have higher rates of depression and anxiety resulting from the required isolation and loneliness of COVID.

"As school closures continue, indoor play facilities remain closed and at best, young people can meet outdoors in small groups only, chances are that many are lonely (and continue to be so over time)," said lead author, Maria Loades, Senior Lecturer in Clinical Psychology at the University of Bath, UK.

Another survey, released by Parents Together, found that the majority of kids surveyed—70 percent—reported feeling sad, overwhelmed and worried. Nearly half the parents—44 percent—are saying that their kids are struggling with mental wellness since the start of the pandemic.

"Children across the country have sent us a clear message six months into the pandemic—the kids are definitely not alright," said Justin Ruben, Co-Director of ParentsTogether. "Millions of kids are facing a food food security crisis, piled on top of an educational equity crisis, piled on top of a school funding crisis, piled on top of a mental health crisis… an entire generation of kids could suffer lifelong harm."

In July, the Centers for Disease Control Director Robert Redfield said that suicides and drug overdoses have surpassed the death rate for COVID-19 among high school students.

Redfield argued that lockdowns and lack of public schooling constituted a disproportionally negative impact on young peoples' mental health. "…there has been another cost that we've seen, particularly in high schools," Redfield said.

"We're seeing, sadly, far greater suicides now than we are deaths from COVID. We're seeing far greater deaths from drug overdose that are above excess that we had as background than we are seeing the deaths from COVID. So this is why I keep coming back for the overall social being of individuals, is let's all work together and find out how we can find common ground to get these schools open in a way that people are comfortable and their safe."

According to CDC data, suicide is the second-leading cause of death among young people aged 10 to 24. The effects of isolation are an increasing the trend. The closure of schools and social gatherings as well as hang out locations has forced students to stay isolated in their homes, increasing the rates of anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts for people of this age group.

For many children and teens, loneliness will decrease as they re-establish social contacts and as they return to school. For some a sense of loneliness may persist as they resume social life, particularly for children and teens who were more socially isolated before lockdown.

"It's key that children and young people are allowed to return to activities such as playing together, even if outdoors, as soon as possible, and that they are able to resume attending school, which gives them a structure for their day, and provides them with opportunities to see peers and to get support from adults outside of the nuclear family," said Dr. Loades.

Furthermore, she added "children need more in their strategy for easing lockdown. Alongside this, the government could target children's wellbeing in public health messaging. And meanwhile, we should also continue to embrace technology as a way to keep in touch."

In a recent article in the Washington Post Emily Oster, a professor of economics at Brown University, and co-founder of the website Covid-Explained, argued that schools are not spreading COVID 19.

"If we are looking for ways to control community spread, shutting down schools is not the answer. Other measures, focused more on the locations and activities known to have "superspreader" potential, would do much more to curb the pandemic. This is where New York City is making a mistake: It is closing schools because city case rates are rising, not because of any evidence that schools are spreading the disease." Oster continued "…what the data increasingly shows is that the best way to protect teachers and students isn't to shut down schools. It's to focus on all the measures that will keep them — and their families, friends and neighbors — safe outside the classroom."


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