About 130 people die by suicide each day in the United States, and the U.S. Surgeon General says mental health issues, including anxiety and depression, are at crisis levels for young people.
“In Oregon and Lane County, we are experiencing an unprecedented number of youths who are severely depressed, severely anxious, suicide attempts–and unfortunately another cluster of suicide completions in our kids is happening right now,” says pediatrician Dr. Pilar Bradshaw.
The 988 helpline was created through the passage of the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, which also includes a strategy to provide specialized services for LGBTQ youth, who are, according to research, more than four times as likely to contemplate suicide than their non-LGBTQ peers.
The 988 emergency number can be accessed through phone and text messages and connects to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which also offers an online chat. With the mental health crisis at current levels, the hotline is expected to receive as many as 12 million calls within the first year of operation.
Eugene Pediatric Associates has posted the new hotline number, along with additional community resources, on fliers in its clinic’s exam rooms and restrooms. “We want to get that information out to families and kids so that in that moment, if there is a crisis, everybody knows what to do,” Dr. Bradshaw says.
Supporting children’s mental health
Parents can do a lot to help kids be mentally healthy and well. Check in often with your child or teen. Ask how they’re doing and validate their feelings. Encourage them to focus on habits that will support a positive mindset, including:
- Creating and sticking to routines. Most kids thrive on having consistency in their lives, which consequently helps them feel in control.
- Organizing their day. This includes planning ahead for big tasks and projects and breaking them down into manageable pieces, instead of waiting to tackle the whole thing at the last minute.
- Spending time outside every day. Being present in nature significantly reduces cortisol, which is a stress hormone and boosts endorphin levels and dopamine production, which promotes happiness.
- Getting regular exercise. Exercise is an excellent stress reliever that can help your teen start to feel more relaxed within minutes. Encourage them to find an activity that they enjoy, which will help ensure they continue to do it.
- Striving for at least 8 hours of sleep each night. Not getting enough sleep makes it harder to manage stress.
- Exploring meditation apps or videos. These readily available tools can help create calm using breathing techniques and guided imagery.
Most importantly, Dr. Bradshaw says, keep an eye on your kids and take notice of anything concerning. “If you’re noticing changes in behavior, sit down with your child and have a really frank discussion and do a lot of very loving listening to see where your kid is at. Don’t just assume that it’s no big deal if you’re seeing changes in your kids’ behavior.”
If your child is struggling and you need additional support, contact your pediatrician.