A study published in March by FAIR Health found that pediatric self-harm incidents have increased 334 percent over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Data from insurance claims show that intentional self-harm for 13- to 18-year-olds increased more than 90 percent from March 2019 to March 2020 and drug overdoses by nearly 95 percent. Generalized anxiety disorder in this age group jumped 93 percent and major depressive disorder was up 84 percent. There was a rise in claims for tics and obsessive-compulsive disorder in children ages six to 12. The numbers account for children with health coverage. More at-risk populations, including those with unemployed parents, were not included in the analysis.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on mental health, particularly on that of young people,” said Robin Gelburd, president of FAIR Health, in a statement. “The findings in our new report have implications for all those responsible for the care of young people, including providers, parents, educators, policymakers, and payors.”
One Teen’s Struggle
One of the most anguishing examples of self-harm was described in a report in the Epoch Times, where Chris Buckner shared the story of his son’s suicide. Dylan Buckner had everything going for him: a star football player with a 4.7-grade point average who was planning to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Buckner said Dylan showed some signs of depression before the pandemic, but in September of his senior year, when it looked like school would be closed indefinitely, things took a turn for the worse. That month, Dylan attempted suicide by jumping off a bridge. Dylan received inpatient and outpatient therapy and was treated with anti-depressants, but they were of little avail.
In January, Dylan disappeared and his friends thought he could be in trouble. Tracking his cellphone, Dylan’s parents located their son’s car at a local hotel, but it was too late. Dylan had jumped to his death from an upper floor.
“I think the pandemic, the shutdowns, the loss of structure, the inability to interact with his friends, and the inability to play football pushed him into that suicidal zone,” Chris Buckner told the Epoch Times.
The Stress Pandemic
Buckner’s story is one of many, as the psychological impact of the pandemic and related government closures and unemployment has resulted in a second and more insidious health emergency. Coined “the stress pandemic“ by the American Psychological Association, mental health events among youth has coincided with the extensive lockdown orders.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reviewed data of pediatric and teen mental health visits to emergency rooms between January and October 2020. Between March 29 and April 25, 2020, when “widespread shelter-in-place orders were in effect,” visits for physical injury and non-COVID-related illnesses were down while cases involving “psycho-social factors” increased. Mental health-related emergencies jumped sharply starting in mid-March and continued into October. Compared to the same period in 2019, cases were up 24 percent for children ages 5 to 11 and up 31 percent for teens.
ER visits were down overall, but the proportion of visits for mental health jumped. The report notes one explanation could be that emergency rooms might have been the only place to turn when schools shut down.
“Many children receive mental health services through clinical and community agencies, including schools,” the report states.
Bureaucracy’s Collateral Damage
Children were kept from school to protect the elderly, writes Marilyn Singleton, M.D, J.D. in an op-ed posted on her website.
“Even if children were found to be transmitters of disease – they haven’t been – a sensible alternative to depriving all students of proper education and social life would have been to ask children whether elders lived in their homes,” Singleton writes. “If so, that group could have been provided with educational accommodations. But the way of bureaucracy is all or none with no room for individual considerations.”
Ashley Bateman (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes from Virginia.
A Fair Health White Paper, “The Impact of COVID-19 on Pediatric Mental Health,” March 2, 2021: https://www.fairhealth.org/press-release/over-300-percent-increase-in-intentional-self-harm-claim-lines-for-ages-13-18-as-percentage-of-all-medical-claim-lines-in-northeast-from-august-2019-to-august-2020-1
Rebecca Leeb, Ph.D., et. al., “Mental Health-Related Emergency Department Visits Among Children Aged Less than 18 years During the Covid-19 Pandemic, January 1 – October 17, 2020,” MMWR, November 13, 2020: https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6945a3.htm