Pandemic deepens a mental health crisis
by Jim Killam | 6-minute read   One in four. That is the number of American adults ages 18-24 who “seriously considered suicide” in the month before a national survey […]
Jim Killam
August 24, 2020
by Jim Killam | 6-minute read


One in four.

That is the number of American adults ages 18-24 who “seriously considered suicide” in the month before a national survey this summer.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the alarming statistics from a survey done in late June. That’s not all. When asked about their emotional state in the month before the survey …

  • One in five “essential workers” said they seriously considered suicide.
  • Almost one in three unpaid caregivers for adults said they seriously considered suicide.
  • 30 percent of all adults reported symptoms of anxiety or depression.

These numbers are all about three times higher than they were in late 2019, before anyone knew about the coming pandemic.

“I’m saddened by that, but I’m not surprised,” said Kevin Polky, founder and executive director of KP Counseling in Rockford.

Kevin Polky (CADC, LCSW) is founder and executive director of KP Counseling in Rockford, Illinois.

“My son graduated from Rockford Christian (High School) in 2014, and three of his classmates out of 100 died from suicide,” Polky said. “Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for that demographic. Now you add in the uncertainty of unemployment, not knowing what the future looks like if you continue your education, and now I’m not able to socialize or interact with my friends the way I was before. And if there is junk going on in my home, and now I have to come back to my house and Mom and Dad are locked down too, it becomes a pressure cooker and I don’t have the same outlets that I had before. Or if I do try to use those outlets, then I get flack for even leaving the house to socialize.

“So there are a lot of things happening at the same time.”

Four years ago, Polky founded Shatter Our Silence, a nonprofit company that educates students and professionals about factors that can lead to suicide in young adults. Among those: depression, addiction, despair and feeling powerless.

“The majority of people who are suicidal don’t want to die,” he said. “They want their situation to change. They want their pain to end. So if that is true, then we need to continue planting seeds of hope. If you want your circumstances to change, then we need to continue reaching out, continue recognizing that there is the possibility of change happening. It’s just getting you to the right resources.”

Sometimes that requires persistence, he added, such as trying several counselors before finding the right fit.

For parents, awareness of a potential problem in their kids starts with knowing their “baseline pulse, their baseline normal,” Polky said. Then it’s the acronym ACT: ask, care and tell.

“As a counselor I want to know, what is the story they are telling themselves?” he said. “And I have to discipline myself to not try to fix it or minimize it, but let them know that I hear what they’re saying in a caring or empathetic way.

“And then the last part is, have the courage to tell someone else or do that next step. We want parents to be their parents, not their counselor. They may need a third party — pastoral care, a professional counselor, whatever it may be. Or they may need to bring them to the emergency room if they don’t believe they can get through the day or the night without harming themselves. But we can’t ever go wrong by creating space and asking someone to tell us the story they are telling themselves with their thoughts and emotions.”


COVID complications

Just as society has moved through phases in dealing with the pandemic, Polky said, so have counselors. There were the initial shock and fight-or-flight responses: from “This is all a hoax” to “I’ve got to do something about this” (hence, toilet paper hoarding). Then, as restrictions relaxed a little in early summer, anxiety lessened as some level of normalcy returned.

Until about July 4, when people started thinking about school.

“Then it was another wave of anxiety,” Polky said. “What am I going to do with my kids? What is school going to look like? How I going to do life without sports now? How am I going to do life without extracurricular activities? Most aspects of what normal was, school-wise, are going to be different.”

This crisis has played out differently than others, like natural disasters, he added, because the timetable and future risk is unknown.

“And then we have had all the other aspects at the same time,” he said. “Since Mr. Floyd’s death there has been the unrest and confusion, and not really knowing what’s happening with the protests and the violence, even though we are fortunate right now that that has decreased. So it increases that feeling of uncertainty and anxiety and of feeling powerless.”
The bottom line for anyone feeling anxious, hopeless or even suicidal: “You are not alone,” Polky said. “Other people feel the same way, and it is OK to ask for help.”

“We all collectively went from order to disorder, and that’s the place we are still in,” he added. “But there is a reorder that has been laid out to us. That’s the template that has been given to us via Jesus and the transformation story. It’s just that as a collective whole, we usually don’t have to go through it all at the same time. It’s usually individually.”


• • •

Update October 2020: Join us online for our Broken Wholeness series which airs each Sunday at 10:30 a.m., Oct. 4–Nov. 8, 2020. In this series, pastors Luke Uran and Josh Pardee cover subjects like depression, anxiety and more. Learn how God meets each of us in our brokenness and works to heal and restore us in love of Jesus Christ.


For Urgent Help

Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255
Crisis Text Line: 741-741
Shatter Our Silence: Guidance, resources and stories


These local Christian counselors are recommended by First Free Rockford.

Creek Counseling

David Creek, LMFT
6653 Weaver Rd
Rockford, IL 61114
*Will do a 30-minute free consultation

Riverside Counseling Center

Lindsey McClanathan, LCSW
6653 Weaver Rd, Suite 12
Rockford, IL 61114

Amy Hultman, LCSW, PLLC

6653 Weaver Road
Rockford, IL 61114

KP Counseling – Kevin Anderson, LCPC

Master’s Degree in Counseling from Trinity International University
461 South Mulford Road
Rockford, IL 61108

Insight Counseling – Tim Fredrickson, LCPC

Master’s Degree in Counseling from Trinity International University
1639 N Alpine Road, Suite 403 (Edgebrook)
Rockford, IL 61107
815-494-6785 (call or text)

Insight Counseling – Dr. Jim Parrish

Doctorate of Ministry
1639 N AlpineRoad, Suite 403 (Edgebrook)
Rockford, IL 61107
815-229-7102 (FA); 815-229-7108

Insight Counseling – Rachel Schultz , LCPC

1639 N Alpine Road, Suite 403 (Edgebrook)
Rockford, IL 61107


LMFT = Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
LCSW = Licensed Clinical Social Worker
LCPC = Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor
PLLC = Professional Limited Liability Company
NCC = National Certified Counselor
M.S.Ed. = Master of Science in Education

Jim Killam
Jim Killam is a journalist, author, teacher and terminal Cubs fan. He and his wife, Lauren, live in Rockford and work internationally with Wycliffe Bible Translators.


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