Mommy Minute: Suicide attempts, eating disorders on the rise amid the pandemic

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At Penn State Children’s Hospital, doctors have noticed an increase in the number of local kids attempting to commit suicide. And they’ve also noticed an increase in the serious nature of those attempts.

It’s an upsetting and disturbing reality amid the global pandemic.

“We might have seen some kids who overdosed on three or five tablets of something,” said Dr. Taran Jolly. “Now we’re seeing kids who might be overdosing on 200, 300 tablets.”

He says this shows a more serious intent.

“The difference being ‘I want help,’ versus ‘I am serious, I want to end it all,” he said.

Often times, those kids are winding up in the ICU with serious injuries. Dr. Jolly says he and his colleagues see at least two or three attempts a day in kids ages 10 to 18.

“The social isolation is just taking a huge, huge toll on kids,” Dr. Jolly said.

In addition to suicide attempts, eating disorders in kids have also gone up significantly. Dr. Jolly says those kids require intense therapy, and in most cases right now, that therapy can’t happen in person. He says health care providers are doing their best, but admits the social distancing protocol is taking its toll on those patients in particular.

Dr. Jolly says kids are missing a physical connection. They are missing relationships. Activities has been cancelled, eliminating many healthy outlets for frustration. And in some cases, their home life might be making things worse.

“There is no way to escape from that situation, so if you have a little bit of argument at home, normally you would say, ‘hey let me go and see my friends and chill out for a little bit,” Dr. Jolly said. “But right now they don’t have that option.”

Dr. Jolly says all parents should be watching for changes in appetite, sleep patterns, concentration and mood.

Do they eat meals alone in their room? Do they spend time in the bathroom after eating? Has their physique changed?

If you notice anything concerning, Dr. Jolly suggests you start by contacting your child’s pediatrician, who will be able to refer to you to a specialist.

Dr. Jolly says it’s also important to connect with your kids as a family. He suggests baking cookies, connecting with a grandparent via FaceTime for a game, or taking a walk. He says you should not let your kids isolate themselves even more inside the home.

“It has to be a whole connected unit,” he said. “The basic thing we are lacking right now is social connectedness.”

If you need help, you can call the National Suicide Prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

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