Jeffrey Reynolds, president and CEO of Family and Childrens Association,...

Jeffrey Reynolds, president and CEO of Family and Childrens Association, said: "There's a lot of kids that suffered grief and loss during all of this that have not had a chance to process it." Credit: Howard Schnapp

Suspected suicide attempts among teenage girls that ended in emergency room visits increased more than 50% in the early months of 2021 compared with 2019, a likely product of the emotional toll of the COVID-19 pandemic on young people, according to a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study, released Friday, found that Emergency Department visits for suspected suicide attempts among adolescents ages 12 to 17 began spiking in May 2020.

Among females, these cases jumped 50.6% from February to March 2021 compared with the same time in 2019, while the increase among boys was 3.7%, according to data from the National Syndromic Surveillance Program.

The data was not broken down by race, location or whether young people identify as LGBTQ.

Jeffrey Reynolds, president and chief executive of the Family & Children’s Association, said the figures, while troubling, are not surprising.

"Kids are social animals and we basically took that all away from them," said Reynolds, whose Mineola-based nonprofit treats more than 360 Long Island youngsters. "We wrapped families up in a whole lot of stress and then locked them up in the same household during a pandemic that has potential health consequences for them, their parents, siblings and grandparents. There's a lot of kids that suffered grief and loss during all of this that have not had a chance to process it."

Mental health experts said the pandemic left many young people feeling isolated from friends and classmates and unable to access their therapist, teacher or guidance counselor in person. Telehealth visits, while convenient, served as a poor replacement for those in crisis, Reynolds said.

Meanwhile, many young people found themselves locked inside with family members struggling with employment issues, substance abuse and domestic violence — with few places to turn.

"The findings from this study suggest more severe distress among young females than has been identified in previous reports during the pandemic, reinforcing the need for increased attention to, and prevention for, this population," the authors wrote.

Meryl Cassidy, executive director of the Response Crisis Center in Stony Brook, a volunteer-based suicide prevention hotline, said there has been a 30% increase in calls for assistance since COVID-19 began and a 60% spike in texts and chats to their helpline. Overall, the center received 65,000 calls and chats in 2020, compared with 42,000 in 2019, she said.

"Many people already had fragile support systems and a lot of coping skills were taken away. And they may not have figured out how to cope during COVID," Cassidy said. "There's the isolation, lack of support, feeling of being trapped, feeling of being a burden on your family and not feeling safe talking to your family, or anyone, about these issues."

Historically, females attempt suicide at three times the rate of men — and four times that level in Suffolk — but men take their lives at twice the rate of women, Cassidy said.

"Girls are more social than boys," Reynolds said. "Taking that away from young women put them in a really vulnerable place and that's part of why we are seeing that disparity among emergency visits."

The report found the rate of suspected suicide attempts among adolescent boys and individuals of all genders ages 18 to 25 largely remained stable during the pandemic. And while suicide attempts increased, the report found suicide deaths among young people did not change significantly during this time period.

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