Increased student harm, suicide tips reported during COVID


Reports of suicidal or self-harming thoughts made to Pennsylvania’s mandatory harm reporting system for schools increased after classrooms were shut down in March because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office released an annual report showing tips to the Safe2Say Something program had dropped since the pandemic sent students home for remote learning, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported Friday. But an increased portion of the calls, online tips and other reports that did come in were for issues of suicidal thoughts or self-harm, data from the system showed.

Between July 2019 and March 13, when Governor Tom Wolf ordered schools closed for the remainder of the year, about 17 % of tips were related to those two categories. Between March 13 and the end of June, tips related to suicide or self-harm jumped to 37 % of all reports.

18 News spoke with a psychiatrist from Arnot Health who said some students need to go back to school for their mental health.

“I think it does weight into factors of your anxiety as well as how your mood is doing,” said Dr. William George, Outpatient Child Psychiatrist, at Arnot Health. “For some individuals, this whole time and being socially isolated from others, their peers, and their friends has also been difficult and contributed to worsening their own depression and anxiety as well. For some, it’s being exposed to those situations causes them more anxiety.”

Some early warning signs of depression is a outgoing individual avoiding interaction, not eating, lack of energy, and sleeping more.

18 News also spoke with a professional at Guthrie Family Medicine who said the pandemic has caused both adults and children anxiety and stress.

“Things like social distancing can really result in people feeling isolated and lonely,” said Dr. Danielle Terry, Director of Behavioral Science at Guthrie Medicine. “It can increase stress and anxiety but they’re necessary to reduce the spread of COVID-19.”

Dr. Terry said children can sense when parents are stressed and not relaxed. It’s also important to be open with children when they have hard questions.

“So one of the things to be thinking about with our children is, how do we have conversations with them. Having an open normalizing conversation is probably one of the best ways to go,” Dr. Terry said.

The program funnels tips to a 24-hour call center at the attorney general’s office in Harrisburg. The tips include things like school safety, bullying, drug or tobacco use as well as issues of suicidal thoughts, depression or self-harm.

The program passed the Legislature in 2018 with nearly unanimous support, mandating its use in all K-12 schools including public, charter, vocational and private schools. During its first month in use, the line received more than 4,900 tips.

“We have to try innovative new ways to reach kids in need, including making child protective and mental health services available at home,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro said.

The annual report also notes the system was on track to receive 37,000 tips before schools closed for COVID-19. the report’s authors noted that like the state’s child protection hotline to report abuse, the Safe2Say Something program saw a drop in use when kids were at home. It ended the school year with nearly 23,750 tips.

Some FREE resources for support:

  • National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1 (800) 273-8255
  • Chemung County Family Services – Same-day or next-day appointments for those in need of help: (607) 737-5696
  • 24 hour hotline for someone in crisis: (607) 442-6900.
  • Steuben County Suicide Hotline: (607) 664‐2255
  • Tioga PA and Bradford PA Crisis Intervention Hotline: (877) 724-7142

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