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Self-harm is rising among children and teens in Virginia, new report finds

Department of Health offices in Richmond, Va. A new report from the agency found that self-harm...
Department of Health offices in Richmond, Va. A new report from the agency found that self-harm and deaths by suicide are rising among Virginia children and teens.(Parker Michels-Boyce, Virginia Mercury)
Published: May. 2, 2022 at 12:13 PM EDT
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Self-harm among children in Virginia — already rising before the COVID-19 pandemic — has continued to increase over the last two years, reinforcing concerns that the virus could exacerbate an existing mental health crisis.

The data, released last week by the Virginia Department of Health, is part of a new push to highlight work by the agency’s epidemiologists and inform communities and policymakers of pressing public health issues. The department’s first two reports focused on self-harm and suicide among youth aged 9 to 18 as well as alcohol-related deaths, which have also been rising steadily since 2016.

Dr. Colin Greene, Virginia’s state health commissioner, said in a statement that both outcomes were “amenable to interventions,” making them a particularly important target for improvement. But children’s mental health, especially, has been a recurring focus for a wide range of providers after more than a year of school shutdowns in some parts of the state.

In February 2021, the Virginia chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics “celebrated” a directive from then-Gov. Ralph Northam to reopen classrooms, citing concerns for their patients’ mental health. A survey of 203 doctors showed that 98 percent had seen an increase in anxiety among children and adolescents and 95 percent reported an increase in depression. Nearly 60 percent of pediatricians said they had seen an increase in suicidal ideation, part of an “alarming decline in mental, behavioral, academic and general health” among patients, according to a statement from the group.

Teachers, too, have witnessed a change. One Henrico County educator told the Mercury that a rise in behavioral problems had become yet another challenge of the job, adding to pressures that are leading many teachers to leave the field.

Statewide data illustrates some of the impacts of worsening mental health among children and young adults. Researchers from the Department of Health examined the number of emergency room visits and nonfatal hospitalizations related to self-harm over the last five years, as well as deaths by suicide from 2015 to 2021. Overall, they found an increase across all three measures.

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.(Virginia Mercury)

The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy

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