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Local mental health experts respond to new CDC report on attempted suicides by teen girls

The CDC report shows emergency department visits for suspected suicide attempts by girls aged 12 to 17 increased 51% during the pandemic in the United States.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — 2 On Your Side has been reporting throughout the COVID pandemic about the impact on mental health.

While people in all age groups have been affected, a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study indicates teenage girls may have been among the hardest hit.

The report shows emergency department visits for suspected suicide attempts girls in the United States aged 12 to 17 increased 51% during the coronavirus pandemic.

That's looking at February and March of 2021 compared to that same timeframe in 2019. While devastating, the news did not come as a surprise to some mental health experts locally. 

A new CDC report shows emergency department visits for suspected suicide attempts among U.S. adolescent girls aged 12–17...

Posted by CDC on Friday, June 11, 2021

"We're definitely seeing an increase in calls in general, mainly related to depression, anxiety and suicidal ideations," said Gina Volanis, the director of emergency services at Spectrum Health and Human Services. 

Volanis believes there are several reasons for this, with isolation and uncertainty throughout the pandemic being main contributing factors, along with disrupted routines and more time spent online.

Bradley Hamm, the program director of BestSelf's BestConnections' Enhanced Response for Suicide Prevention, told 2 On Your Side there are warning signs parents can watch out for.

For example, Hamm mentioned, "Becoming withdrawn, withdrawing from family life or even life with friends, becoming less gregarious or less outgoing; looking for self-harm, self-injury, drastic behavior changes. That could be aggressive behaviors or what we might call, 'acting out behaviors.' "

He also noted comments on feeling like a burden or feeling hopeless could also be red flags. 

Hamm and Volanis both stressed the importance of communication. 

"Having open communication with your child, checking in on them to see how they're doing, if they're having any struggles with depression and anxiety or if they're having thoughts to hurt themselves. That's the first step -- asking them how they're doing," Volanis said. 

If parents or teens have questions or need help, they're encouraged to call C.A.R.E.S., run through Spectrum Health, which supports families in resolving crisis situations.

"And then we'll walk them through what resources there are in the community that they can turn to. We can also provide them with that telephone support or we can come out and do a face-to-face assessment, if need be, to assistant the family and teach safety planning and some skills that might be beneficial for the parents as well as the child," Volanis explained. 

Advocates stressed that seeking out counseling is a sign of strength, and it's OK to ask for help.

"If somebody breaks their arm, let's say, we don't think twice about going to the hospital to get that arm set, but when we have the emotional equivalent of that kind of injury, we don't often think about seeking out help," Hamm said. "That's where we need a shift in our conversation about mental health because we need to treat our emotions and our mental health the same way you would treat that broken arm."

BestSelf is offering training to parents and caregivers on suicide prevention and what warning signs to look for in a mental health emergency. To learn more reach out to Lindy Kadish at lkadish@bestselfwny.org.

More resources here:

  • Spectrum C.A.R.E.S -- (716) 882-4357 
  • Crisis Services 24 Hour Crisis Hotline -- (716) 834-3131
  • 24 Hour Addiction Hotline -- (716) 831-7007
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline -- 1-800-273-8255 
  • Crisis Text Line -- Text HOME to 741741 to reach a Crisis Counselor