Experts Fear COVID, Rising Gun Sales, Could Bring Increase In Teen Suicide Anxiety and depression among teens and youth are getting worse since COVID lockdowns began in March, early studies suggest, and many experts say they fear a corresponding increase in suicide.

The Pandemic Has Researchers Worried About Teen Suicide

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People who feel that the pandemic is affecting their mental health should know they're not alone. Early studies of younger people show a special problem. Anxiety and depression in teens and youth are getting worse since March. We should advise you this story involves suicide, which, among young people, was at an all-time high even before the pandemic. What happens now? NPR's Anya Kamenetz joins us. Good morning.

ANYA KAMENETZ, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What makes psychologists particularly concerned now?

KAMENETZ: So it's early for a lot of data. But at the end of June, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did survey Americans on their mental health. And they found, yes, symptoms of anxiety and depression are up sharply across the board this spring compared with the previous year and especially for young people. Almost 11% of all respondents in that survey said, I have seriously considered suicide in the past 30 days. But for those ages 18 to 24, that number, Steve, was more than 1 in 4, more than twice as high.

INSKEEP: Jaw-dropping number. I can guess the reasons. But what do the reasons seem clearly to be?

KAMENETZ: You know, so much uncertainty about their futures, their education. Their routines are gone. And to some extent varying across the country, young people have been so cut off not only from their peers but from caring adults. I talked to Lisa Damour, an adolescent psychologist. And she told me because of teens' developmental needs...

LISA DAMOUR: It is critically important that they have regular contact with their peers and are able to develop close and ongoing relationships with adults outside the home, such as their teachers, their coaches, their advisors. And I worry very much about what it means for that to be disrupted by the pandemic.

INSKEEP: So all of that is disrupted for millions of people. What other factors could affect suicide rates?

KAMENETZ: So it's a little bit overlooked, but Everytown for Gun Safety, which is an anti-gun-violence group, has just put out an analysis noting that gun sales actually doubled between March and June in America compared to the year before. Ten million guns were sold during that time frame. And as we've reported on NPR, at least one estimate shows that 40% went to brand new gun owners. And Everytown calls that a red flag because firearms are already used in half of all youth suicides. And youth firearm suicides have already been growing very fast over the past decade. In fact, a study last year showed that gun ownership in a particular state was the strongest single predictor of youth suicide rates in that state. I talked to Carrson Everett about this. He's 17 years old, and he volunteers for Students Demand Action, in - which is part of Everytown.

CARRSON EVERETT: Teenagers that are already having the effect of isolation, staying at home and everything. And now there's all these new firearms at their homes. And we can't tell who's safely storing their guns and who isn't.

KAMENETZ: And this is super personal for Carrson because he himself says he has attempted suicide in the past. And if his parents hadn't had their guns locked up safely, he says he might have succeeded.

INSKEEP: What should parents keep in mind?

KAMENETZ: Psychologists emphasize to me that suicide is preventable. You should talk to your teen. Don't be afraid to ask them directly if they thought about harming themselves. And remember teletherapy can be effective during the pandemic and safe, of course.

INSKEEP: NPR's Anya Kamenetz, thank you very much.

KAMENETZ: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day - 800-273-8255.

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