Advocates Targeting Local Youth Mental Health

NEWARK – After learning suicide has become the leading cause of death for Ohio children between the ages of 10 and 14, local Mental Health America staff felt compelled to act.

The team organized a Youth Mental Health First Aid training session in an effort to raise awareness and teach the community how it can help youths facing a mental health crisis.

“We really want to offer more support and this is a small thing we can do, but maybe it will be contagious…” Mental Health America of Licking County Director Penny Sitler said of the training session.

When Shari Johnston read the statistic in May, she cried. She attempted to discuss the issue in her Girls in Progress classes, and even in an interview with the Advocate weeks later, she still choked up while talking about it.

“The age group, 10 to 14, it’s such a young, vulnerable age. And it probably is the most difficult in the teen years for many reasons,” the MHA Girls in Progress coordinator said. “And it’s heartbreaking to know that’s taking our young people.”

“That’s why we wanted to reach out in any way that we can because that’s what we can do is we can talk about it and begin to educate and begin to offer hope to our community and our young people,” she continued.

During a depression screening for the 2018-19 school year, Christina Peña, MHA suicide prevention program coordinator, said the agency screened freshmen in a large Licking County school district. Results from the screening showed nearly one-third were clinically depressed. Fourteen percent have attempted suicide.

Since May, Johnston has pored through articles speculating on the causes for the increase. From time spent in her classes, Johnston was able to offer her own litany of reasons. Some of those include social media, bullying, an increased awareness of suicide, and the trickle-down effect of addiction on teens.

Johnston said children are saying things to each other such as, “go kill yourself.” She added she thinks children are more aware of suicide now, which she partially attributed to the Netflix show “13 Reasons Why” in which the issue of teen suicide plays a central role.

Published Aug. 4, 2019 in the Newark Advocate

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