New Day Weekend with Amara Walker & Gaan Akers of Hillside, Inc. – CNN Interview, Sun 6/13/21
Amara Walker from CNN’s New Day Weekend interviews Gaan Akers, Clinical Education Manager at Hillside, Inc. in Atlanta, Georgia. Amara and Gaan talk about the increases in suicide attempts in teen girls and boys, ages 12-17. They talk about the trends they’ve uncovered in the mental health space that are contributing to the increases and why the increase in attempts from teen girls has seen such drastic increases. Gaan offers advice for parents with examples of behavioral changes that can help them see that something may be wrong and to open the lines of communication to help.
Check out the interview and transcript below.
Amara Walker 0:00
There are reports of attempted suicides at emergency rooms across the country between 2019 and 2021. And they found that suspected suicide attempts increased nearly 51% for girls aged 12 to 17. The increase was nearly 4% for boys of the same age. So here to help us understand what’s going on is Gaan Akers he is a clinical, she I’m sorry, is a clinical education manager for Hillside, which is a mental health nonprofit that works for children and adolescents. Gaan, thank you so much for joining me this morning. It really is astounding to hear these statistics from the CDC study. And look, it’s no secret that the pandemic really had a detrimental effect on so many of us and our mental health. But when you hear ER visits for suicide attempts going up by 51%, among girls between the age of 12 and 17, can you explain what’s going on here? Why specifically girls?
Gaan Akers 1:06
Yeah, so first off, we know already, prior to the pandemic, that excessive use of social media is correlated to increase in anxiety and depression, and especially affects girls. And with the pandemic. You know, with the increase in isolation, I think one of the main ways in which teenage girls are connecting is mostly through social media. And so that could be one of the many reasons in which is contributing to the rise. One of the other things that we also seen is that oftentimes, instead of seeking help early on, even though kids are already struggling, during the pandemic, at the beginning of the pandemic, I think most parents are most people have delayed a lot of medical care, thinking, Oh, that lockdown is gonna be over pretty soon. And so instead of, you know, trying to start, you know, go into therapy online, or trying to seek professional help online, they might have delayed that, which exacerbated a lot of the symptoms. Yeah. And so by the time you know, they’re really needing help, they’re in much more acute symptoms and situation.
Amara Walker 2:25
So two very important points you raised there, I want to start with the first one about social media. So young girls, going on social media, or a lot of us going on social media to make these connections during the pandemic. So what’s the relation here, with this age group of 12 to 17? Being on social media? Does it make them feel more isolated? Is that what they’re feeling, and this is why we’re seeing a spike in attempted suicides.
Gaan Akers 2:54
So the data is not 100% clear. And we know that there’s a correlation, you know, in the past prior to the pandemic, that accepts excessive use of social media is linked to increases in suicide and anxiety and depression more so. And it could be part of it is comparing, you know, life with other people, since oftentimes, people only post highlight reels, you know, on their social media. There is a possibility of increase in social media bullying, like online bullying. There’s just a lot of isolation in the sense that even though you feel like you’re connecting to someone, it’s still a very superficial connection. And that could be part of it as well.
Amara Walker 3:45
Yeah, that virtual connection is not a real connection. You know, we as humans, we learned through the pandemic, we need to be seeing and feeling each other and big there face to face. The key word here, though, is attempted suicides. So I guess if there is any good news, some of these are many of these attempts were not successful. Is that because so many parents now were home during the pandemic, and they were able to be there before the kids actually took their own lives?
Gaan Akers 4:17
Yes, so one of the good news, like you said, is that the actual completed suicide rate in 2020, was actually half, at least in Georgia. Based on the GBI information, you know, in 20, from 2019, it’s down by half and part of that is that, you know, kids even though they’re in the home and even though they might be suffering more in terms of their suicidal ideation or depression, they are also under more supervision and they have less access to means in which they can self-harm. So the constant supervision, the constant contact with family members oftentimes will stop the suicidal ideation from becoming completed actions.
Amara Walker 5:11
So what can parents or guardians family members do to prevent their loved ones, their children from getting to this point?
Gaan Akers 5:22
So the first thing you know, I always asked for parents to really listen, check in with your kids and see how they’re doing. And create a space in which they can feel safe to talk about how they are feeling without judgment. without, you know, parents trying to problem solve right away, but just really listen to what they’re feeling, help them make sense of some of those feelings. It’s really important to keep an eye on any big changes in their routine, if all of the sudden they are sleeping so much more or so much less. That big change in sleep pattern, big change in appetite are really good signs to kind of notice that something might not be right. Especially with teenagers, sometimes depression doesn’t look, you know, like what we think depression should look like. Just like sadness and tearfulness. We see a lot of times kids stopped caring, that apathy of not caring about the things that they used to enjoy increasing isolation, and also, irritability. Instead of just feeling sad, oftentimes, they’re just becoming more irritable. And so those to keep an eye on as red flags for signs of increased depression and anxiety as well.
Amara Walker 6:50
Such an important conversation. Gaan Akers, appreciate you joining us this morning. Thanks for your time.
Gaan Akers 6:57
Thanks so much.
Amara Walker 6:58
And please remember that help is always available day or night. If you or a loved one would like to speak with someone you can call the number 1- 800-273-TALK. An important reminder.
View some of our other podcasts features and interviews to learn more about teen behavioral health trends and tips for struggling parents to help open the lines of communication and get help.