Kids, teens need a sturdy fence of prevention - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Kids, teens need a sturdy fence of prevention

April 25th, 2019 development
Kids, teens need a sturdy fence of prevention

By Katie McPherson
Guest Writer

A new study out of the United States Centers for Disease Control looked at data from the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey and found there were 1.12 million emergency room visits for suicide attempts or suicidal thoughts by children between the ages of 5 and 18 in 2015.

That number had risen sharply from 580,000 in 2007. Of those visits, 43 percent were ages 5 to 11 with the average patient being age 13.

Statistics in most college mental health clinics across the country are reporting help seeking is up 168 percent. Our Pre-K-12 population is showing the same need.

Spring is the time of year that we see a spike in the need for crisis supports. Our local nonprofit Teen Lifeline logs an uptick in 23 percent more calls and texts for support from our teens.

While the finality of prom, graduation and “becoming an adult” sounds fun, for many it marks the end of a journey, and an unknown step into a new beginning.

State testing, final exams and the loss of connection to friends can also provoke feelings of anxiety as summer looms.

As a consultant to schools and nonprofit agencies, I travel regionally and nationally almost weekly. There is not a zip code that I have visited that is not facing this crisis.

Last week, a young man at one of my presentations in Lake Havasu City waited until the very last question was asked and then stood up asking where the administration was from his high school?

How had he been encouraged to come to share solutions to stop the mental health crisis yet the adults had not?

The room was eerily silent as the adults looked to each other with no response for this young man.

We have to show up, stand up and speak up to save lives.

A coalition of thoughtful and civic-minded children as part of Arizona March For Our Lives have drafted with bipartisan support a Student Bill of Rights as part of HB 295.

School districts would be required to create a school-safety plan, which would outline how each school will respond to students in mental-health crises. It would also mandate that schools develop partnerships with outside community organizations or agencies that students can be referred to when counselors cannot provide long-term care.

The alarm has been sounding in the Valley of the Sun for a while, specifically in the zip codes through which we in the East Valley drive.

A verse in a song written by Joseph Malins and performed by John Denver says:

“Let us stop at its source all this hurt,” he cried.

Come, neighbors and friends, let us rally.

If the cliff we will fence, we might almost dispense.

With the ambulance down in the valley.

Mayors are mobilizing, Superintendents are acting. Church leaders are calling for prayers of immediate healing. Kids are asking for help.

The building of the fence is long overdue.

As we enter May, Mental Health Awareness month, I hope you will join forces with me in your own communities by building a sturdy fence of prevention resources to protect our most important assets so there won’t be a need for ambulances or 14-year-old funerals.

Arizona Teen Lifeline phone or text: 602-248-8336.

-Katie McPherson is an East Valley educator and advocate for improved mental and emotional support for young people.