NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Tennessee mental health officials predict national youth suicide trends are an early indication of what’s happening in the state.
According to CDC data from 2021 released last month, suicide rates among people ages 10-24 are higher now than they’ve been since the agency began tracking these numbers.
The Director of Suicide Prevention Services for Centerstone Tennessee says while Tennessee-specific data hasn’t been released yet, the state has mirrored national trends in this area in the past.
“There is a lot going on,” Director Megan Williams said, “[10 to 24-year-olds] have a lot of access to things you and I didn’t have growing up, as well as school requirements, sporting events, extracurricular activities, problems in the home, outside of the home.”
Williams said that the stresses of being a kid, along with the pandemic and having constant access to photos and videos of what their peers are doing can lead to a lot of stress, anxiety and potentially depression for young adults and children.
“For a young person trying to figure out what they want to do, who they want to be, it can really be really really challenging,” she said.
Data from the Tennessee Department of Health underscores Williams’ concerns.
According to the department, in 2019, suicide was the second leading cause of death for Tennesseeans ages 10-14. In addition, that year, one in five Tennessee high school students considered taking their own lives and one in nine tried.
“We are seeing a lot of online bullying,” said Centerstone Crisis Care Coordinator Greg Bennett. “People are having issues they have never really met before but obviously it is very negatively affecting them.”
Bennett agreed that it is hard to pin down one cause and one solution to what he sees as a growing crisis, but isolation and social media do play a crucial role in the pain he hears from children and young adults messaging 988.
“The online world — that’s their friend base and when something happens within that friend space obviously it causes a lot of stress, anxiety, and then we see them reaching out to us,” he said.
Williams said it’s not only that people are constantly online now, but that it is easier than ever for people to edit their photos to get rid of any part of their body they are insecure about or may want to change. She said feeling like they are not looking like their friends or not looking like the pictures they post of themselves can lead to body image issues, eating disorders and depression.
“There are a lot of comparisons and you are trying to figure out who you are and you want to be well-liked,” she said. “I think that can be really difficult on a young mind.”
Williams said she has heard from children as young as five who are exhibiting signs of anxiety and depression and has heard from pre-teen girls who openly discuss self-harm.
“When we talk to them they are really telling us pretty directly, ‘yeah a group of my friends will kind of talk about how we self-harm.’ We really want them to understand how dangerous this can be, whereas, they almost see it as a conversation they can have at their lunch table at school. Where you know just like talking about what kind of sports team you are going to cheer for this weekend,” she said.
Bennett said when these children are struggling they often feel like their parents won’t be supportive or their teachers and counselors won’t be helpful or take time to understand.
To those children and anyone else in crisis, Bennett says there is someone waiting to listen and help them 24/7.
If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis you can dial 988 to talk to a trained professional or text the number to chat with a trained crisis professional.