We still have much to learn about suicide risks among adolescents as a result of the pandemic, but school communities should be vigilant in monitoring for warning signs, Marisa Marraccini, faculty member in the School of Education’s School Psychology program, writes in a column published by EducationWeek.
Marraccini has led research that aims to promote child and adolescent mental health in the context of their school settings. Her research is focused on supporting vulnerable populations, including adolescents struggling with suicidal thoughts and behaviors and youth at risk for bullying, students with ADHD, and improving access to mental health supports across hospital and school settings.
In the EducationWeek column, Marraccini said emerging data do not indicate an increase in deaths due to suicide during the pandemic, but that data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest there has been an increase in suicidal ideation, or contemplation of suicide, among young adults.
Additionally, other data indicate increased proportions of emergency department visits due to mental-health treatment or suicide-related behaviors in young people during the pandemic. But, Marraccini says, the increased proportion may be a result of an overall decline of emergency department visits overall, with actual numbers of visits for mental-health crises being comparable to prior years.
But, she adds: “Until more data become available, it remains unclear if there have been changes in severity and intensity of mental-health crises. However, because seeking help is associated with suicide prevention, the rise in emergency-department visits could also reflect an ongoing commitment by caregivers toward treating serious mental-health concerns.”
School environments, even during a period of remote learning, offer opportunities to identify and help struggling students, she writes.
Among her recommendations:
• Work to establish connections with and between students.
• Integrate social and emotional learning into curricula.
• Use multiple means of reaching out to students, including home visits.
• Learn about the suicide warning signs and risk factors.
• Establish clear protocols for handling in-school and community-based referrals and emergency services.
• Practice self-care and stay connected with colleagues.