Schools, Covid, & Suicide

Schools, Covid, & Suicide

The Covid debate currently lighting up my newsfeed and social media is centered on the wellbeing of students and teachers regarding school openings. While I am concerned with all the lives involved, the primary emphasis of this post is the wellbeing of our students. I understand there are many more issues to consider in regard to reopening schools, but that’s a journals worth of writing. So, the emphasis for this post is to contrast the suicidal effects of emotional, mental, and spiritual distress compared to the mortality of Covid on our children.

First Covid.
Here are the deaths by age reported by the CDC from February 1, 2020 – July 25, 2020.

Under 1yr – 14 Covid Deaths
1-4yrs – 9 Covid Deaths
5-14yrs – 19 Covid Deaths
15-24yrs – 202 Covid Deaths

Every one of these lives lost is tragic. We must rally as a community to support and care for the families who have experienced these losses in the midst of economic uncertainty and the strain this pandemic is putting families as a whole. They need connection, hope, and meaning in this time of isolation, hopelessness, and lack of direction. As Christian charity urges, we must humbly count others as more significant that ourselves. This is what is means to love our neighbors.

People protest wearing masks or social distancing because why? It’s uncomfortable? It’s inconvenient? You think it’s a political ploy? Here are three questions to ponder:

Is wearing a mask or social distancing against of your core religious beliefs?
Can wearing a mask or social distancing help one person?
Does showing care for others help or hurt the cause of loving people in and toward Jesus?

Now suicide.

Since 1999 suicide rates have been on a steady rise across age groups and show little signs of slowing.

Interestingly antidepressants have been prescribed at higher rates during this period as well. There are many reason why someone may feel the need to turn to medication, and I believe there are legitimate physiological ailments that can be helped by medication. However, if antidepressant usage is on the rise and suicide is on the rise there may be other factors to be considered. What is making us depressed? What is leading to suicide? Just how bad is the current suicide epidemic?

For reference compared to current Covid deaths here are the deaths by suicide for 2017. 2020 statistics will not be available for some time, but suicide has been on the rise since before this pandemic.
10-14yrs – 596 deaths
15-24yrs – 6,211 deaths

Stop for a moment and look at the Covid numbers compared to the suicide numbers. Keep in mind the Covid numbers listed above represent 6 months compared to an older 12 month count of suicide deaths, but are still remarkable higher.

In addition to the startling number of deaths caused by suicide, a report released by the CDC showed an increase in suicide deaths by 2.5x from 2007-2017 and the trend has been rising.

While we do not yet have detailed data for suicide during the pandemic, there are many indications that suicide will likely show a sharp rise, especially among our students. Anxiety is on the rise. Depression is on the rise. Calls to hotlines are on the rise, and rather steeply. In an April 2020 Kaiser Family Foundation poll, a federal emergency hotline for people in emotional distress registered a more than 1,000% increase in April compared with the same period the previous year.

What is causing emotional distress?
Why has suicide become a growing option for people to find a way out of their distress?
And what in the world does have to do with schools reopening?

Here is a list of factors commonly related to emotional and mental distress that can lead to suicide:

Economic stress
Social isolation
Decreased access to community and religious support
Barriers to mental health treatment
National/global anxiety
Firearm sales (the #1 mode of taking one’s life)

Any of these sound familiar?… All of them.

The students, while connected with technology, are taking the brunt end of stressors. Sure, they may not be directly experiencing economic stress, but many of their parents are drowning in it. And yes, they may not be purchasing firearms directly, but gun sales have gone through then roof during this pandemic/political unrest amalgam. Many students have, and still are, being greatly affected by isolation, decreased access to support, and lack of opportunities for deep connection.

Students are having fewer meaningful interactions with their friends. Faith communities have been largely locked down leading to further lack of meaningful and positive support. And then school, the connection point for many student relationships is being examined primarily as a mode of information transfer with little consideration being given to the growth and stability brought about through healthy social interactions.

My concern regarding schools not reopening is that suicide, which is already a growing epidemic of sadness, will find fertile soil in the hearts of our kids as they are pushed into further isolation. There has already been a growing disconnection of meaningful relationships and purpose prior to the Covid pandemic, and now our regulations are exacerbating the problems.

As parents who are under a great deal of stress and living a tumultuous political time, can we afford to not turn our eyes and effort to an issue that is already taking many more lives than Covid, and has the potential to destroy even more?

What can we do? (In reality, what will I do?)

Whether or not schools open, I will provide, promote, and support gatherings that are considerate of the public health crisis and beneficial for the physical, social, mental, emotional, and spiritual health of my children. I will create space for gatherings while advocating for health precautions pertinent to the ages of my children. I will change my spending to include to less money spent on things that isolate and more on things that connect. I will ask my kids often, “How are you feeling? What are you doing to become a better person today? Who are you connecting with today?” I will support their connection efforts. I will help them grow in their search for meaning and purpose. I will connect them with their faith family.

These are things I can do as one parent.
What will you do?

The Wandering Pastor

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