Author: Thomas P. Royer, Beech Brook President/CEO

During the pandemic, Beech Brook predicted there would be a second wave of trouble coming. A mental health crisis. Today, there is more disturbing evidence that the wave is upon us; and while the roots of the problem go back much further than the pandemic, the pandemic and its aftermath have certainly provided a ripe environment for the problem to grow.

Suicide is on the rise - and at an alarming rate. It was rising before the pandemic, but suicide is now the leading cause of death for 13- and 14-year-olds in the United States, said senior researcher Dr. Sarah Wood, a professor of pediatrics at Florida Atlantic University's Schmidt College of Medicine.

A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) looking at mental health and suicidal behaviors from 2011 to 2021 indicates that 13% of high school girls had attempted suicide. 30% had seriously considered it.

Chances are that you know a teen or have heard of a teen in your community who has chosen to take their own life.

There are many factors: economic downturns, the opioid crisis, the housing crisis, rising tensions and hostility between liberal and conservative factions in our politics, mass shootings, access to guns and overuse of social media. Even if children are too young to understand some of the external factors directly, they feel stressed when their parents, family members or communities feel stress. Overuse of social media adds to the feeling of distress and ready access to guns makes any attempt more lethal.

For years, studies have been charting rising rates of depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts and behavior, according to a study published online recently in the Annals of Pediatrics and Child Health. Many studies have linked heavy social media use to heightened risks of distress and depression in kids. The bottom line is social media amplifies these issues because it can give the impression that the world is a horrible place and the future is even more bleak.

Add to that online bullying, irrationally comparing oneself to online images and life stories, “sexploitation”, and increasing the disconnect between human beings and you can see where it leads.

September is National Suicide Prevention Month. All month, mental health advocates, prevention organizations, survivors, allies, and community members unite to promote suicide prevention awareness. Beech Brook will be an active participant.

Suicidal ideation and suicides go up when children and teens return to school. It can be a very stressful time for some youth. Beech Brook has been working in schools providing mental health treatment since 1974. We have witnessed more youth suicides than we can count at this point. It may seem counterintuitive, but very few of these suicides have been clients of Beech Brook - and we work with kids who are struggling with mental health problems. But this tells me two things.

First, treatment and support works.

And sadly, second, we are missing a lot of kids who need help. Somehow, they are flying under the radar and we are not reaching them in time.

We are working to make a positive difference. For the next several weeks, our staff will be in schools, attending staff meetings to raise awareness on the identification of kids who might be displaying red flags. We pay special attention to those who might not be exhibiting behaviors that cause chaos but might be more subtle and indicate a significant level of need.

Beech Brook is also creating an online class that will raise awareness of the issue of youth suicide and will specifically train parents on how to identify red flags and what they should do about it if they need help. These classes will be provided online and available to any parent, anywhere. More information about this class will be in upcoming issues of this newsletter.

And, as always, our staff are and will be returning to the schools to support, nurture and help our most valuable resource, our children, THRIVE!

- Tom Royer, Beech Brook President/CEO

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