Pediatricians warn that over the past few years, and especially since the Covid pandemic began, the mental health of children and adolescents “is deteriorating.” “In a special way, adolescents are presenting more depressive symptoms, self-harm and suicidal behavior,” they warn.

Faced with this worrying situation, the Spanish Association of Pediatrics (AEP) has communicated that it plans to create a unified suicide prevention strategy in the pediatric population, with the aim of “reducing morbidity and mortality due to suicide and improving the care of people at risk and your families”.

More ideas of suicide and self-harm after the pandemic

Before the pandemic, it was estimated that 30% of minors had presented suicidal ideas at some point, 10% had attempted it and 2% seriously, requiring medical attention. It is estimated that 18% of minors self-harm before the age of 18.

After the pandemic, cases have increased a lot. During this period, the ANAR Foundation has attended to 145% more calls from minors with suicidal ideas or attempts, and 180% more self-harm compared to the previous two years.

In 2020, 14 children under the age of 15 committed suicide in Spain, twice as many as the previous year. Among the group of young people between 15 and 29 years of age, suicide is already the second cause of death, only surpassed by malignant tumors.

Female sex, the presence of depressive symptoms, greater exposure to COVID cases, and greater consumption of social networks are risk factors for suicidal behavior today.

In 2020, 14 children under the age of 15 committed suicide in Spain, twice as many as the previous year.

Despite this serious situation, the AEP warns that in Spain there is no national plan for the prevention of suicide , and there is great heterogeneity between the action plans between autonomous communities.

Remember that the resources involved in the prevention of suicide in minors are: medical services (Mental Health, Primary Care, Hospital Emergencies and Out-of-Hospital Emergencies), security forces (police, firefighters), education, social services (services/departments of Legal Medicine), associations (of survivors and people affected by suicide, Telephone of Hope, ANAR Foundation (Aid to Children and Adolescents at Risk) or similar) and the media.

As for the existing shortcomings and limitations in suicide prevention, the AEP mainly points out three:

  • Absence or heterogeneity of suicide prevention programs between Autonomous Communities
  • Specific training on mental health and insufficient resources for professionals who are in contact with children and adolescents, in the health field (pediatricians, PC doctors), and education (teachers, school counselors)
  • Overflow of both primary and emergency care services and mental health care.

Call for a unified plan for suicide prevention

Given the growing concern of families and teachers and with the need to address this terrible problem among minors as soon as possible, the AEP proposes a plan to address the situation. It consists of:

  • Create a unified suicide prevention strategy .
  • Insist government bodies to create a suicide prevention plan.
  • Improve and increase material and human resources for mental health care aimed at children and adolescents
  • Implement training programs for schools.

Importance of the role of schools

The AEP points out that training plans in suicide prevention should be implemented by specialized professionals aimed at teachers, counselors and the management team. The objectives of this training are:

  • Detect the risk factors, precipitants, protectors and warning signs that influence the possibility of suicide of the child or adolescent.
  • Establish care and follow-up measures after suicidal behavior: knowing how to attend to the protagonist, listening to him with a supportive attitude, with sensitivity, speed and considering confidentiality in each case.
  • Know useful strategies to avoid the worsening of the behavior or a possible imitation effect.
  • Communicate with families quickly, smoothly and sensitively.
  • Select and train some support students, who help detect cases both in the school and in the social environment, including social networks.