Logging out of virtual school and logging out on life: Teen suicide creates a ‘parallel pandemic’

Coronavirus

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Some schools in Hampton Roads are open while others are closed for the second time.

This week, Virginia Beach Schools, on short notice, returned to virtual learning only.

Some extracurricular activities are canceled and children can’t even reach out and touch a friend to celebrate a victory or to shed tears over defeat. The changes are virtual, but the disruptions are real.

Mental health professionals say sadly, some teens are logging out of online learning — and logging out of life itself. Long hours are spent on the phone or in teleconferences, comforting the family members, friends, and even teachers who are awash in grief.

“Parents are calling and family members are calling in because they don’t know where to go or who to turn to. They want to blame themselves [and they question] ‘Should I have seen the signs and what have I done wrong,?'” said Whitteney Guyton, who owns Synergy Health Systems in Portsmouth.

Mental Health Professional Whitteney Guyton
(Photo courtesy: Whitteney Guyton)

The number of lives claimed by the virus is in the headlines daily, but child suicide has created what the mental health community calls a “parallel pandemic.” The Centers for Disease Control estimated before the pandemic, 2,000 children in the 14 to 18-year-old range take their lives every year.

So far, the official suicide rate numbers for children and teens during the pandemic are unclear, although some anecdotal, small-group research indicates the crisis has grown during the pandemic.

“When you have a loss [due to teen suicide] it touches a lot of people. Sometimes there is never clarity or closure. Once a suicide happens, that death is so open-ended, you just don’t have any answers. The person who is dealing with it has to deal with it for the rest of their life,” said Guyton.

Guyton encourages parents to be on alert, especially for teens spending an inordinate amount of time alone in their rooms.

“So if you have a kid who’s always in his room, stop by. You need to check on them,” said Guyton

As vaccines offer hope, she urges families to be creative in developing sports or skill challenges for the children at home.

“We have to realize we can’t let the internet and social media raise our kids,” said Guyton.

If a parent, distraught about their own pandemic problems, is not capable of helping during a crisis, parents should contact a professional who can offer immediate assistance.

“If there is any type of mental health emergency you can always dial 911,” said Guyton who is developing a free mental health app for the community.

Parents and children can also contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.


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