Content derived from DocTalk conducted with Kari Tanta, PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA
Suicide and self-harm rates have increased during the pandemic, particularly in the younger populations in Washington. Kari Tanta, PhD, addresses suicide prevention, the risks and signs for suicide, and offers steps that parents and caregivers can take to help their loved ones. She also shares her personal perspectives about what it is like as a parent currently experiencing these concerns in her own family.
1.What is important about the emotional and behavioral health of the kids, teens, and young adults in our lives?
This topic is so important, especially since during the pandemic, social opportunities—the basis for their development, have been upended. Sometimes the emotional and mental health of children and teens can be overlooked as parents focus greatly on developmental milestones. We may not easily notice if they are connecting with friends, finding a variety engaging activities that they enjoy, and how they are really feeling.
2. What have we seen recently with an increase in the numbers of attempted or completed suicides locally?
At Valley we are noticing more children and teens coming to the emergency department with suicidal thoughts or self-harming behaviors and other behavioral disorders, similar to rates across the country. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Washington State Department of Health are urging primary care physicians to look more closely at this topic. Friends and family are also advised to know the risk factors to recognize when the children and teens in their lives need help.
3. What are the risk factors for suicide and what is suicidal ideation?
Risk factors for suicide may include:
- Family history of depression
- Previous attempts of self-harm or suicide
- Recent break-up
- Trauma in the family
- Death of a loved one
Suicidal thoughts or ideation are not the same as committing suicide. They are having a thought or idea like, “Maybe I would be better off leaving this world.” Any risky behaviors or attempting to hurt oneself, maybe through cutting, would be examples of suicidal ideation.
4. If you are concerned about your child’s or loved one, what do you recommend for learning more?
Do some research and find some resources before you have a concern about a young person. Don’t shy away from a difficult conversation with a child or teen and ask them about depressive thoughts or thoughts of harming themselves. There are tools online for taking the first step to figure out if depression may be an issue.
5. If you think your child may harm or has harmed themselves, when should you reach out to your primary care provider or take your child to the emergency department?
This depends on what stage of life your child and your level of concern. For young children, it can be easier to seek medical assistance on their behalf and medical professionals are able to give out more information in return. If a child is over 13 years old, there are some laws related to how much information a provider can share about the child’s mental health to a parent. If the child is engaging in conversations with you, and has made no attempts to harm themselves, continue to engage in these conversations with your child on a regular basis. If they have no access to ways to harm themselves and they are safe with you, make an appointment with your primary care doctor or call a suicide prevention hotline. If they have tried to harm themselves, call 911.
6. If your older child is away at college or lives far away how can you reach out or get help for them?
College campuses have great resources including counselors and psychologists, who are usually very willing to discuss general concerns about your student and resources for how to get help. Consider getting a phone number of someone close to them, maybe a friend or relative who has regular contact with them.
7. What services does Valley have to help families support young ones in getting help they may need?
We have many services to support kids and families to help keep kids safe and help transition to the programs they need.
- The VMC Emergency department is available in urgent situations with teams of doctors, nurses, and therapists available to care for children and teens.
- Outpatient pediatric occupational therapy services are available with providers who are well trained in children’s mental health.
- There are many resources for families related to pediatric mental health on the Valley Children’s Therapy website.
- VMC has connections with providers in the area who can provide counseling services to children and teens in need.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: This website has a multitude of resources for suicide prevention. If you are thinking about suicide and need to talk to someone NOW, please call the hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). For Spanish speakers please call: 1-888-628-9454.