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VDH: Self-harm incidents regarding teens worsening in Virginia

From 2016 to 2021 there were more than 58,000 self-harm emergency department visits from kids between the ages of 9 and 18, according to Virginia's Dept. of Health.

FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. — The side effects of the pandemic are becoming more visible, especially when it comes to the younger generation. A new Virginia Department of Health report on self-harm and suicide in kids and teens gives a look at how deep some wounds go.

From 2016 to 2021 there were 58,442 self-harm emergency department visits from kids between the ages of 9 and 18. That includes visits with suicidal thoughts, self-harm, or suicide attempts. The number of visits in 2021 more than doubled the number of self-harm emergency department visits in 2016.

RELATED: There was an increase in children going to emergency rooms for mental health. Here's how that may impact back to school learning

“A lot of the things we’re seeing now like depressive symptoms, symptoms of anxiety, cutting, self-harm, alcohol, substance abuse, all of those things are considered trauma responses,” said Blanca Estrada, a licensed professional counselor with 25 years of experience in children and adolescent trauma.  “When you’re looking at people during the pandemic when they’re all locked up, unable to go anywhere, unable to socialize everything is kind of resurfacing for them."

According to the VDH report, self-harm emergency visits increased by 129% in boys and 190% in girls over the course of five years.

Credit: Virginia Department of Health


“A lot of them are not necessarily trying to kill themselves they really are just trying to stop the pain and they stop the pain by physically cutting or physically attempting something,” Estrada said.

As for what can be done to make things better and heal the trauma, Estrada recommends tuning into your children’s feelings.

“They just need to continue to give people a chance to validate to see them," Estrada said. "A lot of people that are hurting they also feel they’ve never been seen or heard or validated in any way." 

The Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides guidance on practicing active listening when a friend or loved one is thinking about suicide. Those steps include acknowledging the speaker, responding verbally, summarizing what you hear, and looking the part by keeping eye contact and staying engaged.

You can learn more HERE on how to help those suffering from depression. 

RELATED: Pandemic took a toll on teen mental health, US study says