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Covid crisis heightening factors that can lead to youth suicide

Landolt said there were indications that the health crisis “put a lot of stress on [children, who] are very dependent on social experiences" that during the pandemic have been difficult to come by. © Keystone/ Valentin Flauraud

The pandemic and measures taken by authorities to fight it have exacerbated feelings of loneliness, sadness and anxiety among children, says the chief psychologist at Zurich Children’s Hospital, where more than twice as many suicide attempts by young people were recorded in 2020 than in the previous year.

This content was published on April 11, 2021 - 16:52
NZZ am Sonntag/gw

A total of 49 children were treated at the hospital following suicide attempts in 2020, compared with 22 children in 2019, said Markus Landolt, one of Europe’s leading experts in child psychotraumatology.

So far this year, there has been 21 cases already, Landolt told the NZZ am Sonntag newspaper.

Although there has yet to be scientific studies linking the consequences of the pandemic with the sharp rise in suicide attempts, the expert said there were indications that the health crisis “put a lot of stress on [children, who] are very dependent on social experiences. This has been difficult for some time because of the restrictions.”

Patients were typically in adolescence and represented all socio-economic classes. The majority were female.

“Girls internalise problems much more than boys do, who tend to react outwardly, for example, with aggression,” the psychologist explained.

Rise in admissions for psychosomatic disorders

Most were “very desperate” and had acted on impulse. The patients were experiencing difficult family situations and even violence, had fears about their future, or were victims of bullying and social exclusion.

The hospital also saw a significant increase in the number of admissions of teenagers with psychosomatic disorders between November 2020 and March 2021 – corresponding roughly to the second wave of the pandemic in Switzerland – compared to the same period the previous year. Admissions for eating disorders were also on the rise.

Last year a University of Basel study revealed that the incidence of serious symptoms of depression was especially high among young people during the second wave.

Landolt said that initially, authorities had not taken into account the psychological impact of measures taken to manage the coronavirus crisis, including on children. But this impact was now becoming clear, so action had to be taken.

“They must do everything to get us out of this pandemic as quickly as possible,” he said. “It is better if the restrictions are strict but short.”

In Switzerland, the association Tel 143External link operates a 24-hour hotline (dial 143) manned by trained volunteers offering confidential assistance to people in distress.

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