Best Practice

Substance abuse, self-harm, and suicide in adolescents

Data suggesting a 35% rise in teenage suicide during the pandemic is surely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to suicidal feelings. Dr Stephanie Thornton considers the data and offers vital advice for schools


From the outset of the pandemic experts have been predicting a surge in so-called “deaths of despair” (Case & Deaton, 2017): deaths from substance abuse, self-harm, and suicide.

Early on, there was evidence for an increase in such deaths in adults (Mulligan, 2020). Experts predicted a parallel effect in adolescents (John, 2020) given the radical changes to their lives, the intrinsic frustrations and miseries of lockdowns, and the uncertainties about the future. Did teenage substance abuse and suicide in fact increase through the pandemic?


Substance abuse in the pandemic

It is difficult to get clear data on substance abuse in UK teenagers during the through pandemic. Little research has as yet addressed the issue, and what there is is often methodologically limited or poses serious challenges of interpretation.

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