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|February 20, 2020|
New health report for California shows 34% increase in teen suicide
A new national report focusing on women’s and children’s health has found a 34% increase in teen suicides among California youth between the ages of 15 and 19 over the past three years, significantly higher than the national increase of 25%, and a 29% surge in infant childcare costs during the same period.
The report, titled America’s Health Rankings 2019, was released by the United Health Foundation, a philanthropic nonprofit that aims to expand healthcare access.
While this report has been published for 30 years, researchers have taken a deeper dive into women’s and children’s health over the past three years, said Dr. Janice Huckaby, chief medical officer for maternal-child health strategy at Optum Healthcare Solutions in Baltimore.
The 34% increase in teen suicides over the past three years in California is “deeply troubling,” Huckaby said.
“Social isolation is an important factor that contributes to teen suicides,” she said. “More and more teens have screens in front of their faces. They don’t feel as connected with family members and friends.”
There also has been a reported increase in bullying, especially cyberbullying, Huckaby said, adding that the report found that California lacked “supportive neighborhoods” for families.
“Do you know your neighbors? Could you call someone if you have a problem?” she said, giving examples of what a supportive neighborhood means. “We have a social fabric, which is being worn thin.”
Huckaby said she hopes the state-by-state data in the 2019 report will help policymakers and give legislators “a framework to work with.”
The report also shows that California experienced a 29% increase in infant childcare costs over the past three years. Childcare costs are surging because the state’s reimbursement rate for subsidized care is not increasing while wages for teachers and caregivers have increased, said Sharon Baskett, assistant superintendent for the Division of Early Learning Services at the Riverside County Office of Education.
“There are a number of factors that are causing childcare rates to go up,” she said. “Housing rates are up. Home-based caregivers are increasing their rates. Providers are raising their rates.”
Baskett said, in addition to these factors, there is also a shortage of teachers in early care and education, which means that some providers are having to pay a higher rate to retain teachers.
Her department, Baskett said, has thankfully received an influx of state and federal funding including $24 million in additional dollars from the state, which is expected to increase next year. This is because Riverside County has a large number of children and families that are income-eligible for subsidized childcare.
The Economic Policy Institute this year put the annual cost of infant care at $16,945 in California, where the median family income is $68,034. That means a California family earning that level of income is spending about a quarter of its income on childcare.
When it comes to teen suicide, the report’s findings are in line with a recent analysis done by the Southern California News Group, which found that about one in five California students surveyed by their school districts have thought about killing themselves.
According to one expert, parents should monitor what their children are doing online to watch for warning signs.
“We’ve talked to parents who’ve lost kids who check their child’s online activity after the fact and find things,” said Lyn Morris, senior vice president of clinical operations at Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services, which provides suicide prevention services at about 100 schools in Los Angeles and Orange counties serving more than 120,000 children.
“They feel like they could’ve done something had they checked it earlier,” Morris added. “When it comes to teens, it’s a fine line. Privacy is important, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of their health and their lives.”
Parents should always monitor their children’s mental health just as they look after their physical health, Morris said.
“We stress the importance of talking to your children when they are not in a crisis,” she said. “A lot of these conversations happen in the car. Parents should also never worry that talking about suicide with their children will put the idea into their heads. We know that’s simply not true. On the other hand, these open conversations tell kids that their parents care about them.”
Suicide rates are much higher among LGBTQ teens, particularly among transgender teens, Morris said. She suggests that one good strategy for parents is to make pacts with other parents.
“I talk to my son’s friend’s parents and get to know them,” she said. “I tell them that if they see something or hear something, they let me know. And I would do the same. This way, parents don’t think they are offending each other by sharing this crucial information.” (Source: The Orange County Register)
Story Date: October 16, 2019