As the pandemic persists, we know it continues to have a dramatic effect on young people’s mental health, particularly impacting children and youth from vulnerable communities and underserved populations. According to Canada’s Children’s Hospital Foundations, 70 per cent of children aged 6 to 18 say their mental health has declined in some way during the pandemic, with Children’s Healthcare Canada reporting a 100% increase in suicide attempt admissions.
At CAS Toronto, we too are witnessing the impact that COVID-19 is having on the children and youth we serve. This is often compounding the effects of pre-existing life experiences and characteristics that are associated with higher suicide risk including but not limited to: history of abuse, family history of mental illness, separation from caregivers, isolation, and substance abuse.
The Agency’s recently established internal Suicide Prevention Consultation Panel, developed in partnership with the Child Welfare Institute, offers a timely consultation on any case where a staff member is concerned that a child or youth is/might be at risk of suicide or when there is chance that a young person is struggling in this area. Through consultation, workers and Supervisors are equipped with information and resources to enter into impactful conversations with children, youth and their caregivers about suicide, further assess risk and develop enhanced safety plans. Over the past seven months the Suicide Consultation Panel has received an overwhelming number of referrals, conducting roughly 70 consultations for children in care and receiving services in the community.
We know that parents and caretakers rate their children’s mental health higher than the youth or adolescents does. As such, through COVID-19 and beyond, we encourage all guardians to have real conversations with young people in their lives about mental health and create safe spaces for discussion of suicide.