The New York Times
Teens are reflecting on recent national data that show they are struggling with their mental health. In response to an invitation from The New York Times, high school students shared that they were not surprised by the findings. Some said it was common for teens to talk openly about sadness and depression, and they were glad adults are now listening. According to some students, pandemic-related isolation made them feel hopeless and alone, but some said they have felt better since reconnecting with others in person. Feedback on the links between social media and mental health were mixed, with many teens feeling it leads to disconnection and low self-esteem and some saying it has helped normalize talking about mental health. In response to findings that some groups are struggling more than others, students said they see these disparities in their daily lives and believe they should be addressed. Some teens criticized the research for under-representing certain groups, such as trans and nonbinary people. To address these issues, students called for more open conversations about mental health, opportunities to connect offline, and supportive school environments. According to Madelyn Pelletier from Miami Country Day School, instead of talking about abstract ideals, take real action to support the unique needs of each student. “The solution to the mental health crisis cannot be ‘one-size-fits-all’ . . . I believe individualized concrete solutions and action plans are needed to create tangible change,” Pelletier said.
Spark Extra! Find information on preventing suicide in schools.
According to a study by The Trevor Project, a quarter of Black transgender and nonbinary youth reported a suicide attempt in the previous year. That was more than twice the rate of suicide attempts reported by Black LGBQ young people who are not transgender or nonbinary. The study also found almost 80% of Black transgender and nonbinary youth had experienced discrimination and 40% had experienced physical threats or harm based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. They were also more likely than their peers to experience anxiety, depression, violence, and homelessness. The authors suggest social support can help Black transgender and nonbinary youth navigate challenges, noting that those who reported strong family social support were half as likely to attempt suicide in the past year. They also call for interventions to reduce suicide risk. “Immediate steps must be taken by educators, youth-serving adults, and mental health professionals to ensure that Black trans and nonbinary young people feel seen, supported, and protected against a world that so often brings them harm,” said Dr. Myeshia Price, Trevor’s director of research science. The study data came from Trevor’s 2021 survey of 34,000 LGBTQ youth ages 13 to 24 across the U.S.
Spark Extra! Watch our brief video on culturally competent care for LGBTQ youth.
Fierce Health Care
According to a recent report from the National Center for Health Statistics, Black adults were nearly twice as likely as White adults to seek mental health care in an emergency department from 2018 to 2020. Black adults had higher rates of emergency department visits associated with all categories of mental health disorders studied, including mood and anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, and substance use disorders. The report also found Black patients had significantly longer waiting times in emergency departments than White patients, and their visits were less likely to result in a hospital admission or care transfer. “Research has shown that Hispanic and non-Hispanic Black adults are less likely to receive routine treatment for mental health disorders,” the authors note. “In the absence of routine care, patients with mental health disorders often receive care related to a mental health disorder in emergency departments.” This study took place before emergency department overcapacity documented during the pandemic. To address these issues, hospital and provider groups are calling for more investment in behavioral health inpatient services.
Spark Extra! Learn about addressing behavioral health disparities in Black communities.
Planning can help schools and districts prepare to respond appropriately to a student suicide. It is critical that schools build this capacity because youth are at increased risk for suicide contagion (i.e., when exposure to suicide or suicidal behavior influences suicidal behavior in others). After a student suicide, experts recommend school staff talk about it as they would any student death and avoid glamorizing it. Schools should also provide mental health support and give students space to grieve. Avoid holding emotional events and memorials at school and limit the time memorial displays remain in place. Help students maintain their routines by encouraging families to hold funerals off school grounds and outside of school hours. Allow the school community to grieve before rolling out new suicide prevention trainings or programs. Before it’s ever needed, districts and schools should create policies on how to respond to a student death, including suicide. Alexandra Karydi, SPRC director of state and community initiatives said, “You should never have to think about how to put out a fire when there’s a fire. You always build the different alarm systems and infrastructure so that if a fire ever happens, everybody knows what to do and has the tools to address the fire.”
Spark Extra! Check out this toolkit to learn how schools can prepare to respond to a student suicide.
An independent committee set up by the Pentagon recently released a report that includes 127 recommendations for preventing suicide in the U.S. military. Among them are suggestions for establishing a seven-day waiting period for gun purchases and a four-day waiting period for ammunition purchases on Department of Defense (DoD) facilities. The report, which was developed by the Suicide Prevention and Response Independent Review Committee (SPRIRC), also recommends raising the minimum age to buy firearms on bases to 25. According to Craig Bryan, a lethal means expert and SPRIRC member, “ . . . taking steps to slow down convenient access to highly lethal methods like firearms is the single most effective strategy for saving lives.” The committee, which was established in 2022 to review the DoD’s suicide prevention efforts, also recommends increasing access to mental health services. They suggest hiring more providers and increasing insurance payments to allow service members to receive mental health care outside of the military system.
Spark Extra! Read the White House strategy for reducing military and veteran suicide.
The New York Times
Recent national data suggest teen girls are experiencing increased sadness, suicidal thoughts, and sexual violence. The data come from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which is carried out every two years in high schools across the country. The latest survey also found high rates of depression, violence, and suicide risk among LGBTQ youth. Experts responded to the findings by emphasizing that there are steps we can all take to address them, such as talking openly with young people about mental health. CDC researchers highlighted the important role schools can play in promoting student well-being. “Young people who feel connected in middle school and high school 20 years later have better mental health, are less likely to be perpetrators or victims of violence, are less likely to use substances and are less likely to attempt suicide,” said Kathleen Ethier, head of the CDC’s adolescent and school health program. “So school connectedness is a very powerful protective factor.”
Spark Extra! Learn more about promoting social connectedness.
According to a recent report from The Trevor Project, most LGBTQ students in all but two states said they sought mental health care but were unable to access it. In a survey of 34,000 LGBTQ youth, many reported barriers to accessing mental health care related to parental permission requirements or fear of talking about mental health concerns. Previous research from The Trevor Project found that access to LGBTQ-affirming schools can lead to better mental health outcomes and fewer suicide attempts among LGBTQ students. Schools can play an important role in promoting students’ mental health by asking them what they need to feel supported and providing access to mental health programs and services. Experts recommend schools establish suicide prevention policies that address the challenges faced by students with multiple marginalized identities and educate teachers and parents about LGBTQ identities and mental health. They also suggest schools implement policies that are transgender-inclusive and prohibit anti-LGBTQ bullying and harassment.
Spark Extra! Watch our SPARK Talk on culturally competent care for LGBTQ youth.
Michigan is taking steps to address suicide in the construction industry. In 2019, the suicide rate among the state’s construction and extraction workers was four times higher than in the general population. The Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO) held its first annual construction and suicide awareness week last September to start conversations with construction workers about workplace conditions, chronic stress, and suicide. That event was part of LEO’s new hub of resources for promoting mental health in the workplace, which was developed in response to a report from its Workplace Mental Health Workgroup. LEO experts believe long hours, job uncertainty, and hazardous workplace conditions may be among the factors contributing to increased suicide rates among people in construction. According to David Worthams, director of employment policy at the Michigan Manufacturers Association, addressing worker mental health can be good for business as well as for workers. “One study we read was for every dollar an employer spends on mental health services, they actually save close to $14 in not having unexpected absenteeism or sick days,” he said. Sean Egan, LEO’s deputy director for labor, reports more and more businesses are recognizing the value of addressing mental health in the workplace.
Spark Extra! Learn about building suicide prevention capacity in the construction industry.
The New York Times
A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveals that suicide rates rose in 2021 after a two-year decline, especially among people of color and young Americans. Between 2018 and 2021, suicide rates increased by 19.2 percent among Black people and by 5 percent among young adults ages 25 to 44, with the highest increases among Black, Hispanic, multiracial, and American Indian or Alaska Native people in that age group. At the same time, suicide rates declined by 3.9 percent among non-Hispanic White people and by 12.4 percent among individuals 45 to 64. The study did not look at reasons for these racial/ethnic and age differences in suicide rates, but CDC lead behavioral scientist Deborah Stone said financial stress, social isolation, substance misuse, barriers to health care, and access to lethal means could be factors. Suicide rates appear to be rising in communities hit hardest by the pandemic, which may be experiencing cumulative stress. Experts note that collective emergencies often bring a temporary decrease in suicide rates followed by a rebound. Stone said, “In the longer-term, some populations hardest hit by the crisis will continue to struggle with the impact of the crisis, which may have compounded pre-existing inequalities.”
Spark Extra! Watch our SPARK Talk on using data to focus prevention efforts.
According to a recent opinion piece, a pilot mental health care program in Ecuador could provide a model for other countries. Globally, suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among 15 to 29-year-olds, and many countries lack adequate mental health services for their citizens. To address this issue, the Ecuadoran Ministry of Health, the Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ), and New York-based Northwell Health partnered to create a mental health test model in the District of Yaruqui. The model aims to increase local clinics’ capacity to identify and treat people with mental illness. The program gives clinic staff tools for identifying mental health conditions and trains bachelors-level psychologists to screen and assess patients, provide patient education, and refer complex issues to psychiatrists. The pilot reduced wait times for mental health consults from two months to two weeks. Similar collaborations between universities, medical schools, health systems, and governments could expand the number of available providers and improve access to mental health care in the U.S. and other countries, the author wrote.
Spark Extra! Learn how to build multisector partnerships.