Where the statistics do show an upward trend in suicide is in the US school-age population – those between the ages of 15 and 24. The data published by AFSP indicate that, in 2020, the registry increased from 13.95 suicides per 100,000 inhabitants that occurred in 2019 to 14.24. However, this last figure is lower than the 14.49 immolations registered in 2018 in the same proportion of inhabitants.
In the particular case of Florida, the year in question, 3,135 people ended their lives. That is, 13.12 inhabitants out of every 100,000 blew themselves up. A reality that places the Sunshine State in position 38, among the states with the lowest suicide rate.
In order to get closer to the reality experienced by young people of school age in our county, DIARIO LAS AMÉRICAS spoke with psychiatrists, representatives of organizations that develop programs to help mental illness, politicians and members of the Miami Public Schools School Board- Dade.
remove the stigma
One of the few politicians who included in the last county mayor’s campaign making the issue of mental illness visible was former Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas, who believes that more attention should be paid to the Health mental.
“Throughout my career, when I held different public positions, it was a stigma to talk about mental illness. In the 80s and 90s the problem existed, but it was not talked about. So when I ran for mayor two years ago, I spoke openly about this vitally important issue. The stigma had to be eliminated,” said the politician who proposed that mental health conditions have the same treatment in health insurance that is given to physical health.
Patricia Ares Romero, a member of the board of directors of NAMI, https://namimiami.org/, agrees with the above idea, a national non-profit association that has developed different free support programs for parents and relatives of people who are suffering with his mental health. Between them they developed End The Silence“End the Silence”, which is taught in elementary and secondary schools in the county where students address different mental illnesses, their symptoms and when it is necessary to seek help”.
For the doctor of psychiatry Nelson Cordero, medical chief of My Psychiatrist, mypsychiatrist.com, it is uncertainty that mainly affects the youth and adolescents of our society. “One of the main reasons for what is happening is the uncertainty about what the future holds. At a social level, a series of events have been triggered that began with the pandemic, the economic anxiety generated by it, and recently, the tension over the possible consequences of the war in Ukraine.”
“Actually, we don’t know for sure what’s going on. The studies are not clear. Yes, we perceive an increase in mental illness in youth, associated with post-COVID. We have seen an increase in the number of adolescents who have contemplated the idea of suicide. Many remained isolated in their homes for a long period of time, at a time when domestic violence increased, divorces increased and, as a consequence, suicides also increased,” said Ares Romero, who is a psychiatrist.
Dr. Cordero agrees that since the appearance of COVID there has been a significant rise in mental illnesses and mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety, he considered among the causes of suicide among young people “the fact that, during confinement, children were more exposed to physical and verbal violence between their own parents and to drug and alcohol use. These are scenarios that, if the children had been in schools, or the parents in their jobs, they would not have experienced.
Access to social networks
This psychiatrist, whose practice treats patients hospitalized for mental health issues at Broward Health Medical Center and Broward Health Imperial Point hospitals, stated that children’s access to social networks is another risk factor to consider among potential causes of suicides. “In multiple cases, social networks create in children a false expectation of what life is. They follow people with millions of followers, who show a dream life, wonderful vacations and trips to exotic countries. So many affected young people wonder what I’m doing wrong, I’m the same age as them and I’m here. If parents do not have much knowledge of how their children feel based on the content they are being exposed to on the networks, serious problems can arise. The basis of everything is education”, he stressed.
Both psychiatrists agree in pointing out that the Internet allows a breach to the bullying of the little ones. “With so many cell phones, text messages, and social networks, the harassment continues all the time, argued Dr. Cordero.
Dr. Ares Romero considers that “before, the problems of the schools ended, when the children reached the safety of their homes. Now, the bullying continues through social networks. They are seeing that they were not invited to the party where all their classmates attended. Before, they didn’t even know. Now photos and comments are everywhere. The children question why they didn’t invite me, why they don’t give me likes. There is a constant need for recognition.”
Strengthen the personality
But these experts point out that it does not only happen through networks. Sometimes, educators themselves encourage erroneous behaviors that do not help students to channel frustration. “In many schools they have competitions where all the students receive a prize. Competitions have to be won, like everything in life. We must give children the opportunity to make mistakes. One learns from frustration. This is how the human being grows. It is preferable that children make small mistakes, when they are small, than big mistakes, when they are older. We are failing in the education of our children, but these are aspects that we can solve if we take care of it,” said the NAMI board member.
For her part, Christi Fraga, member of the Board of the Miami-Dade Public School District, emphasized the decrease experienced in the suicide rate among students in the school district in the last two courses. She made reference to the fact that after the peak of 7 suicides registered in the 2019-20 academic year, this figure dropped to 6 deaths in the 2020-21 academic year and 4 cases during 2021-22.
“National statistics do not reflect what happens at the local level,” he insisted.
In 2019, the Florida Board of Education passed a law requiring the state’s public schools to teach at least five hours of mental health instruction, grades six through twelve. The idea is that students learn to identify signs and symptoms of depression and where to get help and the resources available in schools.
“In our District we have given a lot of attention to mental health. We have provided various resources and tools that students need to channel anxiety. We offer meditation in the curriculum, breathing techniques, we teach students how to deal with the adverse circumstances they may be experiencing, we also encourage them to approach psychologists and willing professionals in schools, when they feel depressed or sad. We have also provided anonymous telephone numbers and web pages where they can report any form of bullying.”
He suggested to parents that “the best way to deal with bullying is for parents to participate in school activities and listen to their children, who can be victims as well as aggressors. Being vigilant is the only way to help them.”
For her part, Dr. Mari Tere Rojas, a member of the school board, added that “the District Mental Health Department grew from nothing and now has 128 employees. In addition, we have about 300 people in schools hired to deal with mental health issues, including counselors, psychologists and specialists in emotional care.
Sure enough, in mid-July 2021, the Miami-Dade Board approved a $13 million plan to bolster school counseling staff. Other funds were also dedicated to hiring 100 mental health professionals to work part time for the various schools.
About 334,000 students study in the 392 public schools of the Miami-Dade School District, unfortunately, 4 of them committed suicide in the 2021-2022 academic year.
Ares Romero believes that more means should be put in place and the existing resources should be publicized to combat mental illness. “There are parents who cannot get an appointment with a psychiatrist for their children, when they need one. That is a serious problem. Above all, now that we are experiencing so much anxiety and depression whose consequences could lead to suicide. We should put more money so that everyone receives the necessary treatment.”
NAMI Miami also has a suicide prevention program taught by parents who have experienced suicide. “It consists of educating the public in detecting the signs that perhaps a loved one is in danger. We teach them how to get help and where to go when they have a family member suffering”.
For example, “if we see that this person is not participating in activities that they used to enjoy, that they begin to give away significant belongings for them, or that in some way they begin to say goodbye, these may be symptoms of someone who intends to harm themselves,” the statement said. psychiatrist and urged parents to use the free resources available at NAMI Miami.