Virtual learning: Kids' mental health, suicide concerns

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, virtual learning was listed as a stressor for 60% of children who died by suicide in Milwaukee County, the medical examiner's office said.

While experts say it is typically a combination of factors that cause someone to take their life, they want parents to know about resources as a third school year impact by the pandemic gets underway.

The typical classroom has changed drastically since March 2020. Children, like everyone, are navigating new sources of stress.

"Looking at the stressors that we’ve all had that have been unique over the last 18 months I think is a really important thing to focus, and to know that counselors are adapting in the way that they are offering and providing treatment," said Andrea Nauer Waldschmidt, Prevent Suicide of Greater Milwaukee co-chair.

The Milwaukee County Medical Examiner's Office reports that five children have died by suicide since the start of 2020. Three of those five cited virtual learning as a stressor.

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Milwaukee County Medical Examiner's Office (MCMEO)

On June 17, 2020, a 17-year-old Cudahy girl died. The report notes: "She did not do well with at-home classes after the COVID-19 concerns. She was at risk of not graduating on time."

A 16-year-old Milwaukee boy died on Dec. 17, 2020. The report said: "His parents indicated he was struggling with virtual learning and the subsequent decline of his grades."

In Milwaukee, a 12-year-old died from suicide in June 2021. The report stated: "His grades were always good during his in-person studies, but his grades began to drop significantly when he began virtual school this past January."

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"If you feel like you’re struggling, you are not alone. There is hope," said Nauer Waldschmidt.

Nauer Waldschmidt said parents should look out for behavior changes and encourage their teen to talk.

"It’s really dependent for your teen," said Nauer Waldschmidt. "I really encourage you to, if there’s concerns, to reach out to the crisis mobile team or even your pediatrician to speak about those specific concerns because so much is on an individual basis."

The Milwaukee County Children's Mobile Crisis Team can be reached at 414-257-7621. Both parents and kids can call it if they are ever in need of help.

After reporting two child suicides in 2020, the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner's Office said there have been three thus far in 2021. Dating back to 2015, the most reported in a single year was 8 in 2017.

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