Suicides Up Nearly 100% Among Young People in Wisconsin’s Second Largest County, as Medical Experts Cite Perils of Social Isolation

Suicides Up Nearly 100% Among Young People in Wisconsin’s Second Largest County, as Medical Experts Cite Perils of Social Isolation by Jon Miltimore for FEE

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New mental health data from Dane County, Wisconsin offer a dark glimpse at the costs of stay-at-home orders.

This summer, a relative reached out to me regarding the sad story of Kodie Dutcher, a 10-year-old from Baraboo, Wisconsin who was reported missing in July.

Law enforcement officials put out an Amber Alert, and a volunteer search party was organized. Kodie’s body was found the following morning—July 7, a Tuesday—near her home. Her death was ruled a suicide by the Baraboo Police Department.

Kodie’s death shook me. I grew up in a small town not far from Baraboo and know people who live there today. It occurred to me that my own little girl, whom I still think of as a baby, is roughly the same age Kodie was when she took her life.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenge for everyone, but evidence suggests that few demographics are suffering more than young people. Data show they’re suffering more economically, and emerging evidence shows that many are less equipped to deal with the “collateral damage” of forced lockdowns mentally.

A new report from the Wisconsin State Journal examining mental health trends in Dane County, the second most populous county in Wisconsin, shows that many are struggling to cope with the mental toll of social isolation precipitated by the economic lockdowns.

Hannah Flanagan, the Director of Emergency Services at Journey Mental Health Center, said calls to the center’s crisis hotline are up more than 15 percent since the beginning of the pandemic, with many people suffering not from severe mental illness but situational stress. Preliminary data collected by the center show that Dane County passed its 2019 suicide count in early October.

Flanagan said Dane County had experienced 57 suicides as of early October, more than the total of 54 it had experienced the entire calendar year in 2019. She indicated that the excess deaths largely stem from stay-at-home orders.

“When people are lonely, it’s really hard to cope,” Flanagan said. “The specificity about COVID social distancing and isolation that we’ve come across as contributing factors to the suicides are really new to us this year.”

It’s alarming to see a large county eclipse its previous suicide total with nearly three months remaining in the calendar year, but the numbers become even more troubling when you drill into them a little further. The center’s figures show that 15 of these suicides were committed by people under the age of 25. That’s nearly double the total in 2019 (eight)—and we still have nearly three months until the year is over.

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