WBAY TV news

By Dakota Sherek
Published: Aug. 14, 2020 at 6:57 PM CDT

APPLETON, Wis. (WBAY) – Early on in the pandemic mental health experts expected their resources would be needed more than ever. Lately Appleton police have noted an uptick in suicide calls, particularly among teenagers.

“The pandemic is affecting all of us and our mental health,” said Wendy Harris, who works with the Northeast Wisconsin Mental Health Connection (N.E.W)

To mental health professionals like Harris, that’s no surprise. Particularly when it comes to teens and kids, who are typically more vulnerable.

“This pandemic it’s unprecedented and it’s disrupting nearly every aspect of children’s lives,” said Harris. “Their health, development, learning, behavior, their family’s economic security, their protection from violence and abuse, their mental health.”

But even those outside the mental health industry have noticed.

“It was something we felt is concerning,” said Appleton Police Officer Meghan Cash.

Appleton Police have been responding to more suicide calls involving teenagers.

The department looked at a specific suicide attempt method. In the first six months of 2019 only one person under 20 attempted that method of suicide. This year six people under the age of 20 have attempted that method.

That data was shared in a Facebook post, in hopes of making adults more aware. The department’s post also encouraged parents to speak with their children about how they’re feeling and linked to some suicide prevention resources.

“As a police department we feel it’s an important thing, a reminder, for all of us to watch out for our children and prepare them for some of the stuff they see every day,” said Cash.

Harris is also project coordinator for N.E.W’s eight-year initiative Healthy Teen Minds.

Though the pandemic and other world events are adding extra stress, she doesn’t want parents to panic. She says their local youth risk behavior survey data showed about 17 percent of kids in a given year will have suicidal ideation, but an even smaller percentage might make a plan and an even smaller percentage will make an attempt.

“Not to minimize the seriousness of when people go into crisis and feel suicidal, but we need to keep in perspective that for every one youth suicide for example 9,999 got through it,” said Harris.

Harris says the focus should be on basic prevention techniques, making sure parents and adults in the community are keeping an eye out.

“We as parents, as trusted adults in the community, we need to be very aware of our kids and if we see changes in their behavior, if they’re struggling, ask them. And it’s okay to ask someone if they’re feeling suicidal. That is not going to plant to seed or make them more at risk.”

She adds that even just ensuring teenagers get eight to nine hours of sleep a night can be a big help.

“No one has to suffer alone, we are all locked down and hunkered down but there are resources out there and we can reach out and connect them,” said Harris.

If you would like to learn more about what programs and services might be available in your area of northeast Wisconsin, visit MyConnectionNEW.org.