Helping Nevada parents, teachers learn the signs of teen suicide amid COVID-19

As the spread of COVID-19 continues, behavioral health experts say it's as important as ever to make sure children and young people have the mental health support they need.

Since the pandemic began, 19 Las Vegas students have died by suicide.

To help curb teen suicide during the pandemic, the Health Plan of Nevada is collaborating with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to help teach parents and caregivers how to be aware of the warning signs. Taryn Hiatt, Utah/Nevada area director at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, said it's critical for parents, teachers and other folks interacting with young people to educate themselves.

"Just like you would learn CPR to respond to somebody in a physical emergency or, you know, we learn the signs of stroke and heart attack, so we can be helpful," Taryn said. "Well, we all need to learn the signs and symptoms of a mental health crisis."

Those signs may range from depression and anxiety to withdrawing from activities or isolating themselves from family and friends, she said.

Taryn suggests anyone who may be struggling or having thoughts of suicide to connect with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or the Crisis Text Line, by texting HOME to 741741.

Wendy Whitsett, clinical practice coordinator for Health Plan of Nevada's Behavioral Healthcare Options, said children are facing many of the same uncertainties adults are.

"Our new normal is not being able to play with their friends in the same ways, isolation and loneliness," Wendy said. "Children use their peer groups, they play, just like we have our friends that we talk to."

Taryn highlighted the importance of taking the signs of mental health crisis seriously, especially with children and teens. She pointed out the teenage brain is not fully formed yet, and young people often may act more impulsively.

"That's why it is even more risky for them to be in crisis," she said. "Because they don't know with life experience that this thing that seems like it will never change is going to get better."

She recommends the my3 suicide-prevention app for anyone, not just people who've already made an attempt.

It poses questions such as who can you call, what can you do to distract yourself and where is a safe space you can go, to be prepared with some strategies for coping, if you do find yourself in crisis.

* This story was originally published by the Public News Service.