Study Finds Teen Suicides Dropped During Lockdown

41
Credit: lauren-york-unsplash

Nick Morrison writes for Forbes stating that Teen Suicides Fell During Lockdown, Rose When In-Person Schooling Resumed, Study Finds.

Returning from online to in-person education was associated with an increase in the rate of teen suicides of as much as 18%.

The results provide convincing evidence that “in-person schooling is a contributor to teen suicide,” researchers say, with exposure to bullying likely to be a key factor in the link.

Schools around the world were closed to the vast majority of students from March 2020 as part of efforts to stop the spread of the pandemic.

But while there were concerns over the impact on children’s mental health of the disruption of their routines and enforced separation from their peers, suicide rates fell during lockdowns.

Although the fall among 12-18-year-olds was replicated among young adults (19-25-year-olds), the difference is that suicide rates for the younger age group rose when schools reopened in August and September of 2020.

Seasonal pattern to suicide rates among U.S. teens

Previous studies have identified a seasonal pattern to suicide rates among U.S. teens, with a higher rate during the school year than in the summer months.

For the latest study, the coronavirus school closures and subsequent re-openings provided an opportunity for researchers at Oregon and San Diego State universities and Claremont McKenna College to test whether this seasonal pattern changed during the pandemic.

Their analysis of mortality statistics found a stark break with the trend in 2020, the first pandemic year, with a relative decline in teen suicides beginning in March rather than June. This was the first time this had been observed since 1980.

The team then used smartphone data to capture footfall traffic in schools as a proxy for local school reopening policies. This enabled them to see how suicide rates varied as school districts moved back to in-person schooling at different times during the Fall of 2020 and Spring of 2021, with startling results.

“We consistently find that increased K-12 foot traffic is associated with a significant increase in teenage suicides,” the team reported, in a working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Measuring foot-traffic in bars and restaurants allowed the team to partially distinguish the effect of in-person schooling and other pandemic-related measures, such as shelter-in-place orders and the closure of non-essential businesses.

There was also no link between the move to in-person schooling and suicide rates for the 19 to 25 age group.

The team estimate that the move to in-person school was associated with a 12-18% increase in teen suicides, with a preferred estimate of approximately 15%.

School closures would adversely affect mental health

The researchers acknowledge that this runs counter to claims that school closures would adversely affect mental health, but point out that suicide is only one part of mental health, and that the average teenager’s mental health may be very different from that of teenagers contemplating suicide.

Hybrid learning – a mix of in-person and online teaching – was also linked to an increase of teen suicides of between 10 and 18%, suggesting that any in-person schooling could be decisive, regardless of how much.

The researchers speculate on a number of possible reasons for the link between school opening and teen suicides. One is that the increased time spent at home with parents could have had a positive effect, as well as reducing the amount of time teenagers spent alone.

But the team acknowledge that for some families, increased time together could have led to greater family stress, and they could find no evidence that parental exposure was a key driver of the change in suicide rates during the pandemic.

Reductions in pressure associated with high-stakes exams, sports or romantic relationships may also have been a factor.

Exposure to bullying

But the team did find evidence that exposure to bullying may help explain part of the link between in-person schooling and teen suicide rates.

Using Google searches as a proxy for concern about bullying, researchers found that fully reopening schools was associated with a 52% increase in bullying queries, a 42% increase in cyber-bullying queries and a 93% increase in queries about school bullying.

“Our results suggest that changes in exposure to bullying, which has been documented to be an important trigger for teenage suicide, may be a key factor in the association between school calendars and teen suicide,” they conclude.

The researchers emphasize that the widespread benefits of education mean their findings do not support a policy of closing schools to reduce suicide risks. Instead, they call for more research into the reasons why mental health declines for some students when schools are open, and action to tackle bullying in schools.

 

Did you subscribe to our Newsletter?

It’s Free! Click here to Subscribe.

Source: Forbes

LEAVE A REPLY

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.