The COVID-19 pandemic has and continues to cause many challenges, but emerging data shows that children and youth may be one of the populations most vulnerable to the negative impacts of social distancing, isolation, increased stress and uncertainty.
The Canada Suicide Prevention Service (CSPS) supports anyone with a concern relating to suicide, and in the past 5 months alone, there have been over 500 interactions from children and youth who expressed suicidal ideation alongside concerns about COVID-19. Many of these young help seekers felt extremely isolated; facing difficulties remaining connected to friends and/or significant others. Many also say they are struggling with online learning, having a hard time feeling motivated, productive or connected. Additionally, some have been forced to stay at home in stressful or hostile family environments, with little agency for when or how they can get any reprieve.
Data coming from other sources reinforces and highlights the effects these situations are beginning to have, with Children First Canada collecting statistics from hospitals that show suicide attempt admissions have increased by 100% on average amongst children and youth (McMaster Children’s Hospital has reported a 200% increase), and admissions related to substance-use disorders have increased 200%. Child abuse rates resulting in injury requiring hospitalization have also increased.
The majority of children and youth surveyed by Canada’s Children’s Hospital Foundations are also self-reporting that they have noticed the pandemic has harmed some area of their mental health; 70% of this demographic confirms they feel the impacts in areas such as anxiety or attention span.
Permanent negative outcomes, especially such as an ‘echo pandemic’ of suicides, are not inevitable. When addressed with studies or needs assessments and subsequently ameliorated with appropriate supports, healing and a return to a sense of normalcy are possible. Parents/guardians are encouraged to check-in regularly with their children, especially on the subject of mental health, and remain vigilant for the more subtle signs something is amiss. These include (but are not limited to):
- Dramatic changes in a child’s sleep schedule
- Extreme irritability and/or mood swings
- A loss of interest in relationships or activities that previously made them happy
- Verbal indications something is wrong, even when expressed in a casual or joking manner (such as seemingly flippant remarks about wishing they were dead, not wanting to exist, or not wanting to wake up again)
While one of the additional challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic is reduced access to many in-person support and networks, services do exist and children and youth should be encouraged to leverage them, with the adults in their lives ensuring that these resources are talked about in a positive, de-stigmatizing manner.
Children and youth with thoughts of suicide can call CSPS any time at 1-833-456-4566, or text CSPS from 4PM to 12AM ET at 45645. However, if the risk is immediate, please contact 9-1-1.
If a child or youth wants to talk to someone but isn’t necessarily thinking of suicide, Kids Help Phone can be contacted at 1-800-668-6868.