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Mental health crises spike among youth in Kansas

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BARTON COUNTY, Kan. (KSNW) – Mental health has been a concern among many throughout the pandemic. With September marking Suicide Prevention Month, advocates want everyone to know you are not alone and there is help. 

The Center for Counseling and Consultation in Barton County has seen a drastic increase in the number of youth being treated for mental health concerns. 

Overall, the Center which covers the four counties of Barton, Rice, Pawnee, and Stafford counties has seen an 11.07% increase in the number of crisis calls to their hotline totaling nearly 100 calls, and according to HealthSource Integrated Solutions, the state as a whole has recorded a 31.65% increase or nearly 1,700 more mental health hospital screenings. This is compared to the same time last year.

“We’ve seen an increase in suicidal behaviors. We’ve seen an increase in the number of screenings we do and what our partners do to assess for hospitalization to see if a person is a danger to self or others,” said Gail Sullivan, Clinical Director for The Center for Counseling and Consultation. “Each day we get a report of events that have occurred overnight and that list is longer than it’s ever been.”

The age range of reports is concerning for advocates.

“There’s been an increase in the number of teenage kids coming in and expressing more anxiety and more depression, especially in the last month,” said Leonard Kaiser, Therapist and Community Outreach Liaison. 

The Center says the seclusion, depression, and anxiety brought on primarily by the pandemic has led to an uptick in self-harming, substance abuse, and suicidal behavior among kids.

“For many, it’s just the overwhelmingness of the difference in the way they’re having to live their lives now. The new normal. I think the anxiety is causing the underlying issues to surface more readily,” said Kaiser.

“It is a common theme that they have been isolated so much. That has been such a struggle for them. People can’t do their normal routines. One of the symptoms of depression is that you lose interest in the activities you used to enjoy. Well this is kinda a forced thing on them where they can’t get out and do the things that they enjoy,” said Sullivan.

One of the largest aspects is the loss of socialization.

“We are meant to be social beings and social creatures and when we take that aspect out of our lives it makes it difficult sometimes to cope with some of the things that we might be feeling or dealing with. It just makes it hard to be an active, happy, and healthy human sometimes,” said Shanna Long, CBS Clinical Coordinator.

According to the Kansas Communities That Care Survey 26% of school-age kids in the sixth, eighth, 10th, and 12th grades have thought about suicide at some point in their lives, and another 31% have reported feeling sad or hopeless every day for two weeks at a time.

Of the same age kids, 18% have planned how they would kill themselves.

Advocates urge loved ones to be on the lookout for early warning signs such as your kids feeling hopeless, trapped, or angry. 

The Center found that 75% of those who die by suicide show these early warning signs.

“Everybody has a part to play and one of the first steps is if people start recognizing the signs of depression and the warning signs of suicide, then they can do something about that,” said Sullivan.

The CDC shows that suicide is the second leading cause of death among youth ages 10-24 years old. Untreated depression is the number one cause of suicide.

“For those who we haven’t talked to for a long time. For those, we may have lost contact with, or even those who we just assume are doing okay, we know that have struggled in the past and touching base with them again. Because we can’t just continue to assume that just because they were doing fine a month ago, that they’re still doing okay,” said Pearson.

If someone is showing warning signs, experts suggest asking questions such as, “Are you thinking about harming yourself?”

If so, find out the plan of how, when, and what access, and if someone is at risk. The next step is taking action.

Take the person to a mental health center, an emergency room, or call 911 if they are in immediate danger.

Advocates want those struggling with mental health to know they’re not alone and that normalizing mental health conversations is one of the first steps in breaking the stigma.

“It’s very important to normalize the conversation. Ask them how they’re doing or how they’ve been impacted by the changes in school. Or how they’ve been positively impacted by going back to school,” said Long. “We have to model for them, so we have to be comfortable having those conversations, because if we aren’t, then they’re not going to be comfortable doing that.”

The more the conversation is had, experts say, the easier it will become.

“It needs to become as easy for people to say that ‘I am depressed,’ as it is for them to say ‘I have a headache today,” said Sullivan.

For those needing help, they encourage you to reach out or call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-TALK (8255). The lifeline is free, confidential, and is always available.

There is also a Spanish lifeline available at 1-888-628-9454, as well as a deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing loss lifeline.

“Those who are struggling, I encourage them to not keep it to themselves. It may feel like nobody wants to listen or you’re the only that’s going through it, but the truth is, you weren’t made to be alone,” said Kristian Pearson, Training and Onboarding Coordinator.

There is also a Mental First Aid training that teaches participants how to help someone who is developing a mental health problem or experiencing a mental health crisis.

 “There is hope and there is help for them,” said Sullivan.

The training is eight hours and introduces participants to risk factors and warning signs of mental illnesses, as well as builds an understanding of their impact.

“Giving that hope back is what I really see has to be done,” said Pearson.

Currently the Center is working to bring #ZeroReasonsWhy to Barton County.

The initiative is a mobilization campaign that works to prevent teen suicide and drive productive conversation to help those see there is zero reasons why suicide is an option.

For more information on mental health, warning signs, and how you can become an advocate, click here.

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