The New York Times has published an outstanding article about the increase in student suicides during the pandemic. Although it is impossible to definitively link the increase to locked-down schools, there is a very strong correlation. Mental health and education experts are becoming increasingly concerned about how the isolation of the pandemic is affecting our children.
One lesson in these statistics is the limitations of expertise. In hindsight, focusing on only one set of statistics (the number of cases) and relying on only one type of expert distracted us from other, very real problems that we needed to address during the pandemic. It’s a very easy trap to fall into, as we tend to want simple solutions to big problems. But no single expert can tell us everything we need to know in order to make a wise decision. To quote Niels Bohr, an undisputed expert who won the Nobel Prize, “An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field.” Infectious disease experts know the physical effects of disease, but they know next to nothing about mental health.
Successfully fighting the pandemic will require us to develop policies that recognize the very many dimensions of being human. Lockdowns made sense early in the pandemic, and we still face serious risks from the virus. But people are social animals, and after a year, we are seeing high costs of isolation. It is time to find solutions that protect vulnerable people without sacrificing the mental health of our children.
Firmly linking teen suicides to school closings is difficult, but rising mental health emergencies and suicide rates point to the toll the pandemic lockdown is taking.