Pa. hotline: Student suicidal thoughts, self-harm reports jumped after lockdown

The Associated Press
With a chart outlining his department's accomplishments as a backdrop, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro talks with York Dispatch staff Thursday, Jan. 2, 2020. There were 16 homicides in York City in 2019. Bill Kalina photo

Reports of suicidal or self-harming thoughts made to Pennsylvania’s mandatory harm reporting system for schools increased after classrooms were shut down in March because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office released an annual report showing tips to the Safe2Say Something program had dropped since the pandemic sent students home for remote learning, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported Friday. But an increased portion of the calls, online tips and other reports that did come in were for issues of suicidal thoughts or self-harm, data from the system showed.

Between July 2019 and March 13, when Gov. Tom Wolf ordered schools closed for the remainder of the year, about 17% of tips were related to those two categories. Between March 13 and the end of June, tips related to suicide or self-harm jumped to 37% of all reports.

The program funnels tips to a 24-hour call center at the attorney general’s office in Harrisburg. The tips include things such as school safety, bullying and drug or tobacco use as well as issues of suicidal thoughts, depression or self-harm.

Gov. Tom Wolf speaks during his press conference at PA CareerLink in York Tuesday, July 28, 2020. Wolf was highlighting the importance of job-finding resources in light of the unemployment cause by the COVID-19 outbreak in the state. Bill Kalina photo

The program passed the Legislature in 2018 with nearly unanimous support, mandating its use in all K-12 schools including public, charter, vocational and private schools. During its first month in use, the line received more than 4,900 tips.

“We have to try innovative new ways to reach kids in need, including making child protective and mental health services available at home,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro said.

The annual report also notes the system was on track to receive 37,000 tips before schools closed for COVID-19. The report’s authors noted that, like the state’s child protection hotline to report abuse, the Safe2Say Something program saw a drop in use when kids were at home. It ended the school year with nearly 23,750 tips.