Krissy Williams, 15, had attempted suicide before, but never with pills.
The teen was diagnosed with schizophrenia when she was 9. People with this chronic mental health condition perceive reality differently and often experience hallucinations and delusions. She learned to manage these symptoms with a variety of services offered at home and at school.
But the pandemic upended those lifelines. She lost much of the support offered at school. She also lost regular contact with her peers. Her mother lost access to respite care—which allowed her to take a break.
On a Thursday in October, the isolation and sadness came to a head. As Krissy’s mother, Patricia Williams, called a mental crisis hotline for help, she said, Krissy stood on the deck of their Maryland home with a bottle of pain medication in one hand and water in the other.
Before Patricia could react, Krissy placed the pills in her mouth and swallowed.
Efforts to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus in the U.S. have led to drastic changes in the way children and teens learn, play and socialize. Tens of millions of students are attending school through some form of distance learning. Many extracurricular activities have been canceled. Playgrounds, zoos and other recreational spaces have closed. Kids like Krissy have struggled to cope and the toll is becoming evident.
Government data shows the proportion of children who arrived in emergency departments with mental health issues increased 24% from mid-March through mid-October, compared with the same period in 2019. Among preteens and adolescents, it