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Young girls attempting to kill themselves at higher rates during pandemic

Mental health-related emergency department visits among adolescent girls were 50.6% higher during the first year of the pandemic.
Published: Mar. 30, 2022 at 4:53 PM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) - A troubling trend is in the spotlight as more and more adolescent girls are attempting to take their own lives, that number reaching a 6-year high during the height of the pandemic.

The CDC says in 2020, mental health-related emergency department visits among adolescent girls were 50.6% higher than the year before.

“They also don’t have a lot of those resources and social support, whether it’s the church, other youth, 4-H, theater, you name it. It’s out there, and for a long time during that pandemic, all of that has been stripped away,” said Rachael Holloman, with the Georgia Department of Public Health.

According to DPH, in 2020, 1.3% of emergency room visits in Georgia for girls age 10-14 were those who were trying to kill themselves. For girls age 15-17, it’s 1.8%. That’s compared to 0.8 percent for boys age 10-14, and 1.4% for boys 15-17.

Gone too soon

“Khyla was a sweet little girl,” said Pamela Dennis, Khyla’s mom. “She’s basically been an angel to us from the time she came on this earth, gentle spirit, kind spirit, hard-working. "

Khyla Dennis was Snelson-Golden middle school’s track star and an academic powerhouse. She danced, she goofed around, she loved taking selfies. “This year is the year she would have graduated high school,” Pamela Dennis said.

One afternoon, the mom of five got the worst call she could imagine. Khyla was dead. The 13-year-old killed herself.

“I would love to have known what she was dealing with, and how it was affecting her. So we could have some sort of help. If it was just another day, another week, I would have loved to have had her in my life that much longer,” said Pamela Dennis.

13-year-old bright and loved Georgia girl gone too soon.
13-year-old bright and loved Georgia girl gone too soon.(CBS46)

Pamela Dennis isn’t the only mother facing this pain.

“Anxiety has gone up, depression has gone up, mental health as a whole has been affected,” Holloman explained.

How to stop it

“By nature, girls are way more social beings than boys,” said Holloman. “Just that social isolation within itself, not being able to explore in a safe space, who they are, what this puberty and teenage years mean, and where they want to go with their lives, and all those things we call teenage angst that they need to work through - they’re just not able to do that.”

State health officials know this is a problem, even coming up with new state programs, focused on preventing young girls from killing themselves.

“We actually held a face-to-face event in September in 2021 - it was a girl’s summit,” said Holloman. “We brought in Shon Engaligan, who was a Marvel stunt-woman who talked to girls about the power of the mind and what it meant to struggle with depression, and anxiety, and other mental health things. We’re really trying to normalize that conversation.”

Pamela Dennis believes there is still hope these numbers can change, but only through having tough conversations

“The worst question that people don’t want to as is, ‘Do you want to kill yourself?’ It is okay to speak out about it,” said Dennis. “But we have to have a conversation, we have to break the stigma.”

Talk about it to save lives, in Khyla’s honor, and to make sure no one ever thinks death is the answer.

“No matter what’s going on no matter how difficult you think it is, your life does matter,” said Dennis. “I honestly believe that if she was still with us, she would have gone on to do great things.”

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

800-273-8255

Hours: Available 24 hours. Languages: English, Spanish.

Learn more

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