A segment on Vermont Public Radio this week has highlighted a problem that is a growing concern nationwide: Teen and youth anxiety and depression are getting worse since COVID lockdowns began in March.
According to the news report, at the end of June, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention surveyed almost 10,000 Americans about their mental health. They found symptoms of anxiety and depression were up sharply across the board between March and June, compared with the same time the previous year. And young people seemed to be the hardest-hit of any group.
Almost 11% of all respondents to that survey said they had “seriously considered” suicide during the past 30 days. For those ages 18 to 24, the number was one in four — more than twice as high, the report stated.
Data collection for several studies on teen mental health during the pandemic is currently underway. And experts worry those studies will show a spike in suicide because young people are increasingly cut off from peers and caring adults, because their futures are uncertain and because they are spending more time at home, where they are most likely to have access to lethal weapons.
The stressors of COVID come as youth suicide was already at a record high before the pandemic, with increases every year since 2007. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people ages 10 to 24, after accidents, as it has been for many years, according to the most recent data available from the CDC.
Not having guns in the home, or keeping them safely locked away, is another overlooked factor in suicide risk. A new analysis of the latest CDC data, just released by the advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety, found that the rate of specifically firearm suicides increased 51% for 15- to 24-year-olds in the decade ending in 2018. Among 10- to 14-year-olds, who have a lower rate of suicide to begin with, suicide by gun increased a staggering 214% in that time frame.
Gov. Phil Scott on Thursday announced that Vermont has received $3.8 million in federal funding for suicide prevention. The five-year grant from the CDC will support the implementation and evaluation of the state’s comprehensive public health approach to suicide prevention in Vermont. The announcement coincided with the observance of World Suicide Prevention Day.
“Deaths due to suicide are tragic and leave a lasting impact on families and loved ones,” Scott said in a prepared statement. “This grant will help ensure Vermonters who are struggling have access to the resources they need to help them through their challenges, and, hopefully prevent these unfortunate events.”
Clearly, the grant is timely.
According to the CDC, suicide is an increasing public health crisis that took more than 48,000 lives in the U.S. in 2018. As of Sept. 4, there have been 72 suicide deaths in Vermont this year. Over the last 10 years, the number of suicides in Vermont has risen, with a current rate 34% higher than that of the U.S. as a whole.
“Vermont is well poised to expand, strengthen and bring to scale our suicide prevention efforts,” said Department of Mental Health Commissioner Sarah Squirrell in a prepared statement. “Suicide does not only impact those experiencing mental health challenges, and we owe it to each person to have in place the systems to meet them where they are — and in a way that is appropriate to their individual needs and circumstances.”
The Vermont Addressing Suicide Together project will use the federal grant to build on existing partnerships and programs to implement and evaluate a data-driven public health approach to suicide prevention in Vermont. The project will bolster collective efforts on the integration between health care and mental health, and work to ensure all Vermonters have access to the supports they need.
We welcome this news at a critical time, especially for young Vermonters. The risk is too great. And prevention is only accessible through education and resources.
Let this be a first step toward turning this trend around.
Visit healthvermont.gov for more information, resources and data about suicide prevention in Vermont.
If you or someone you know is thinking about or planning to take their own life, there is help 24/7 through the National Suicide Prevention Hotline: (800)-273-8255. Also, text the Crisis Text Line: Text “VT” to 741741 anywhere in the U.S. about any type of crisis. Get immediate counseling and support through text messaging.
This editorial first appeared in the Rutland Herald on Sept. 10.