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Carlynton psychologist describes ‘suicide contagion’ phenomenon


By Sam Bigham

Carlynton School District Psychologist Dr. Patricia Serdy is reporting a spike in student mental health emergencies.

Serdy told school directors during the Dec. 6 meeting that she is observing an increased rate of anxiety and social phobia in students which she believes is being caused by the COVID-19 pandemic quarantine. She also described a spike in suicide attempts and thoughts among students in the week prior.

Three student risk assessments had been performed on Dec. 6 according to Serdy. Earlier in the week, seven risk assessments were completed. The Carlynton district services students living in Carnegie, Rosslyn Farms and Crafton communities and has an enrollment of approximately 1,300, with about 600 attending the jr./sr. high school.

As a result of the assessments, Serdy said six were sent for emergency evaluation and three were hospitalized after attempting suicide. Serdy described this as a “suicide contagion” which is a phenomenon where one student’s attempted suicide causes other students to also attempt self-harm or have thoughts about it.

“If one student attempts suicide it can lead to a pattern of more students thinking about it – more students attempting,” said Serdy.

Vice President Joe Appel asked if these attempts and thoughts were being caused by factors outside of school where the students are not being monitored by school faculty and staff.

Two of the three hospitalized students were enrolled in cyber school and did not benefit from having teachers who could check in on them and intervene, said Serdy.

These kinds of incidents reveal the difficulty of accommodating children who do not attend school in person said Serdy, who is working on a plan to remedy this.

Serdy said she hopes the trend would "die down.”

She also reports the district’s “Chill Room” continues to help make students comfortable enough to talk about these kinds of thoughts and allow the school to intervene and believes there would have been more attempts without that kind of support.

In October, 256 students went to the Chill Room at the jr./sr. high school and Serdy said she believes this number doubled in November. A longtime Carlynton psychologist, Serdy added that she has seen many kids who struggled to find friends in elementary become more social by high school. English as a second language and refugee students are also beginning to socialize outside of their own groups, she reported.

Six students are currently in “partial hospitalization” where they are taken to Wesley Family Services during the whole school day for 30 to 40 days. At Wesley, students receive two to three hours of instruction while the rest of the day focuses on mental health treatment and lessons.

Wesley is currently full and not accepting referrals until January so Serdy is working on setting up transportation to other locations.

Carnegie resident Sam Bigham attends Indiana University of Pennsylvania where he serves as news editor of student news source “The Penn.”


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