On March 20, 2021, some 10,000 people engaged in a London rally protesting the severe COVID lockdowns of schools, businesses, restaurants, bars, and even playgrounds. I was particularly struck by a sign carried by a woman that read “Stop Harming Our Children”.
As a busy psychiatrist who has been hearing of growing numbers of adolescent suicides from acquaintances of patients and friends, the extent of this reality was brought home by a March 25, 2021 report from Boston Children’s Hospital. It states that between July and October of last year there was a 47% increase, over the same time period the year before, in adolescents needing to be hospitalized for suicidal ideation and attempts.
In an All Things Considered interview cited in the report, Dr. Elizabeth Pinsky, pediatric psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital, stated:
You think about the young people you know who are going through the process that is completely normal and very important, of separating from their families and developing and identity outside of that…Those identities are an athlete, an actress, a friend, a person out in the community. And we have taken those things away from these kids in a way (that) really attacks the things that makes kids really healthy. We know that kids who are committed to sports, who have activities, who sort of have good peer groups, do better. The losses that adolescents, in particular, are, experiencing around identity and around who they are in the world, I think is one of the reasons that we’re seeing an uptick in self-harm.
She went on to state, “It does feel that we are perhaps shifting to a new phase in the pandemic now, and that we may be moving on from sort of the darkest days in terms of isolation for children and some of the things that were hitting kids the hardest. And so I hope that some of that hope can roll down from grown-up onto children over the coming months.”
This research is consistent with the experience of too many families whose children have committed suicide because of the severe increase in isolation and loneliness in their lives as direct result of the COVID-19 guidelines. These guidelines have undermined the ability of adolescents to maintain a healthy identity through essential activities related to good friendships, sports, acting, musical performances, and community involvement.
COVID guidelines which have insisted that masks and the closing of schools are necessary to protect youth have been disproved by Jonas Ludvigsson, a Swedish professor of clinical epidemiology at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. His research was peer reviewed and published in a letter (“Open Schools, Covid-19, and Child and Teacher Morbidity in Sweden”) in the March 2021 edition the New England Journal of Medicine.
Ludvigsson studied children from the ages of 1 to 16 during the first wave of the pandemic last spring. The children studied were not wearing face masks. Only 15 children went to the ICU—a rate of 0.77 per 100,000, according to the report. Four had “an underlying chronic coexisting condition” and “No child with Covid-19 died.” As far as teachers, “fewer than” 30 ended up in the ICU during the same period, which is a rate of about 19 per 100,000.
Many have been dismissive or even antagonistic toward Ludvigsson’s study and findings. He stated in a recent New York Post article that said he lost sleep as a result of the “angry messages through social media and email” assailing his study. The Post piece noted that “due to the backlash Ludvigsson faced over his research, Sweden plans to boost academic freedom protections in law…”
In short, Ludvigsson’s study disproves school closings based on youth testing positive for COVID or having mild COVID symptoms. The forced isolation of adolescents through COVID guidelines should be withdrawn immediately as a national policy to protect our youth from the severe epidemic of suicide that is far more dangerous to youth than is COVID.
Over the ten year period from 2007 to 2017 the suicide rate among people ages 10 to 24 years old climbed 56%. Obviously, numerous factors were already contributing to this marked increase in vulnerability in youth to suicide.
Genesis 2 recounts that God, having placed Adam in the Garden of Eden, stated, “It is not good for man to be alone; I will make a helpmate suitable for him” (Gen 2:18). While this passage is normally applied to marriage, it offers a path for those who struggle with intense loneliness at every life stage. Youth need helpmates in numerous activities in order to build confidence and hope. The effects of intense loneliness are often denied for long periods of time—only to have them emerge later as severe depression, hopelessness, and thoughts of suicide.
Those who created the COVID guidelines misrepresented the risks of COVID and denied the psychological science that so clearly identifies the need for secure attachment relationships with other adolescents to maintain psychological health.
A November 2018 Harvard University study of over 5,000 adolescents, who were followed for more than eight years (and controlled for many other variables), showed that those adolescents who were attended at least weekly religious services and who prayed regularly—compared with those who never attended religious services—demonstrated greater life satisfaction, a stronger sense of mission, practiced more forgiveness, and volunteered far more. They also had lower probabilities of drug use, early sexual initiation, STIs, and abnormal Pap test results, as well as fewer lifetime sexual partners.
The COVID-induced depression has also resulted in cognitive impairments of concentration and memory. Some adolescents have reported the benefits of meditating during the day, “God, please protect me and my family from loneliness, despair and an inability to meet the demands of daily life or provide for the family.”
Immediate actions are needed on the local, state, and federal levels to admit the serous mistakes made with the COVID guidelines and to make the necessary changes to protect youth (as well as their parents) from despair and suicidal impulses. There needs to be an admission that new strains of COVID have not increased fatality rates in those below the age of 70; there must be a concerted move to open schools, playgrounds, athletic fields and places of business. We must act responsibly and immediately to protect youth from the epidemic of hopelessness and suicidal impulses.
• Update (April 8, 2021): Listen to Dr. Fitzgibbons discuss this essay with Drew Mariani on Relevant Radio.