Suicidal tendencies in children: expert opinion

The number of suicides among young people increases each year in the spring, but this year the number is simply unprecedented, say experts in Crete, pointing out that this phenomenon is nationwide and global in nature. What is to blame for the sharp increase in suicides?

The Children’s Psychiatric Clinic of Heraklion University Hospital (PAGNI) in Crete has even hired additional staff to cover the treatment needs of adolescents who are suicidal.

Suicide attempts this spring in Crete are so numerous that 14 people were treated in a ward with a capacity of 10 people. In addition, a specialized department for the treatment of adolescents who have attempted suicide was additionally formed, reports

Suicide by young people is high each year in the spring, but this year is unprecedented, notes Maria Basta, director of the Child Psychiatry.

Quarantine and poverty

The suicidal tendencies recently recorded among many teenagers in Crete can be associated with a two-year quarantine and the rapid economic deterioration of their families, which fall apart in the blink of an eye.

Unfortunately, these children with a fragile psyche, who are at a really difficult age, find it difficult to cope with the situation prevailing in their parental home. Alas, suicide seems like an “easy solution” to escape from a troubled family environment, when parents constantly start quarrels and cannot solve their problems. They don’t care about the child at this point.

So what could end up causing an increase in the number of teenagers attempting suicide?

Ms. Basta, in order to explain what exactly is happening, referred to the reasons that could lead to such an outbreak, as well as problems identified when observing patients in the clinic:

“There is a seasonality in suicides, but I think this year’s outbreak is also related to the ‘flushes’ of the pandemic. Families in which children grow up have experienced difficulties: financial, professional, as well as psychological pressure due to the pandemic. And when the family suffers, the children also suffer.”

Forced confinement

Quarantine has led to the fact that children have lost their social skills and interest in life contacts, and sit on the Internet for hours. They were out of school for two years.

“All these measures for the coronavirus, which, of course, had to be taken in accordance with sanitary standards, unfortunately, affect the psyche, and I think that both families and children have suffered. Of course, this phenomenon of “suicidal tendencies” does not exist only in Crete, it is nationwide and possibly global, based on international specialized literature,” the expert notes.

Regarding the overcrowding in the child psychiatry department, the director of the clinic stated that it was a big problem: “Overcrowding is always a big problem in psychiatric clinics because it affects the provision of mental health services, as well as the safety of the work of the department. There are many beds in the clinic where seriously ill psychiatric patients are treated, and they need complete rest (elimination of any irritants – loud sounds, bright lights, etc.). Despite all this, they do not sleep well, which ultimately negatively affects the treatment process. In addition, in some special circumstances, there may not be adequate safety during treatment in the sense that you cannot adequately control the situation.”

Regarding the shortage of staff, Ms. Basta stated: “There cannot be adequate oversight due to the lack of staff. The number of beds is related to the number of staff responsible for patients. There is a patient/staff ratio. When this ratio changes and, for example, one nurse is responsible not for 5 children, but for 7 children or 8, this makes supervision less thorough. When the number of patients grows and there is not enough staff, doctors cannot do their job effectively.”

Ms. Basta also explained seasonality problem, which she says is another reason for the increase in suicide attempts among teenagers. According to her, “in the spring there is an outbreak of emotional disorders and suicides in adults. We have shown this here in Crete in studies that have been published in recent years, but it has also been observed all over the world. People suffering from emotional disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder have a “spring flare”. It’s the same with suicide. Their largest number is recorded in May-June, and the second time – in September. That is, during the seasons. We showed and presented the relevant data in our study. This phenomenon seemed to change in the first year of the pandemic, in 2020, before returning to “normal” in 2021. The number of suicides appears to have increased.”

Georgios Psistakis, president and founder of the Συλλόγου Φίλων Ψυχιατρικής ΠΑΓΝΗ “Υδρία” Association, said that family problems were the main reason for the increase in suicide attempts among adolescents, which is what led to a sharp increase in the number of hospitalizations in the PAGNI children’s psychiatric hospital. “Adults have gone crazy, and children are paying for it. Parents fight because there are problems, and children pay for it,” Mr. Psistakis emphasizes.

As for the reasons for the increase in suicide attempts, the expert states: “Now is a harder time than before the pandemic. After two years of COVID and after a situation that has put the whole society in a difficult situation that no one can easily handle, comes a war that makes the situation even worse.”

Lack of psychological help

“Whatever we say, it doesn’t make sense. We all live in the real world. Many people go through crises very hard. In fact, it’s not the best when children see how their parents “bite”. They realize that the house lacks the things they need to survive. It is not the best thing for a 14-year-old boy to see his parents constantly quarrel over this and create a tense atmosphere in the family,” Mr. Psistakis says, referring to the lack of psychological assistance for children and sounding the alarm, that the situation may worsen in the future.

“The situation is complicated by the fact that often there is no outside help from the school, society, social workers. Behind us, doctors, there should be people who can help in this situation,” says Georgios Psistakis. “Children have nowhere to get help, what else can be said about this?”, the expert concluded.

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