By Alexsa Leto
As we all continue to navigate the pandemic and economic downturn together, more attention is being given to issues of anxiety and depression — whether it’s our own feelings or the feelings of those around us. Deaths by suicide and drug overdose have increased since COVID-19. It makes me think of the many children and adults who can’t just step away from things that overwhelm them — among them the children that Guardian ad Litem serves every day.
The Guardian ad Litem Program represents abused, abandoned, and neglected children. Throughout Florida, we have over 10,000 people who work with our staff and attorneys to support and advocate for these kids whose lives are complicated in so many different ways.
We already know that children who experience trauma like abuse and neglect at a young age are more susceptible to lifetimes of depression, according to medical research. In fact, children and teens in foster care are two and a half times more likely than other youth to have seriously considered suicide and nearly four times more likely to have tried it. The pandemic has increased separation from their families and friends, and as GALs, we are working hard to try to give them more support.
That’s why I wanted to raise awareness that September is National Suicide Prevention Month. The Guardian ad Litem Program has been proud to work with Florida’s First Lady Casey DeSantis, who chairs the Florida Children and Youth Cabinet, and has been working to bring attention to suicide prevention and mental health generally. The Cabinet learned that in Florida, suicide is the eighth leading cause of death for all ages but the fourth-leading cause of death for ages 5-14 and the third-leading cause of death for ages 15-24.
Knowing how to identify warning signs and how to help children and teens in crisis can save lives and create opportunities to get help for coping with anxiety and depression. We, as a community, must learn to recognize and help children experiencing trauma from abuse and neglect.
Guardian ad Litems are constantly working to give hope to dependent children, support them, and identify services to keep them healthy and safe. Suicide Prevention Month is a good reminder that everyone can lend a hand to children – and adults – in need. We can all learn about available resources, like dialing 211 or going online to find out about local resources to help with depression, post-traumatic stress, and thoughts of suicide. The Suicide Prevention Hotline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255), is available 24/7 to assist people at risk of harming themselves and anyone in distress who needs support, prevention, and crisis resources.
Every Floridian can learn something during Suicide Prevention Month, and that something could change a person’s life forever.
To learn more about the Guardian ad Litem Program, or to volunteer, call 1-866-341-1GAL or visit www.GuardianadLitem.org.
— Alexsa Leto is the Guardian ad Litem circuit director for the 16th Judicial Circuit, Monroe County.