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Jacksonville youth face rising rates of trauma, mental health issues

By Angely Pena Agramonte

Teens today are under a lot of stress: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that the proportion of young people visiting an emergency department due to a mental health crisis climbed by 31 percent during the six months between April and October of 2020.

And that’s amidst a global pandemic that has left many people afraid to seek treatment, especially in a hospital. It’s impossible to tell how many other young people were in crisis and didn’t seek treatment last year. 

Mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts can be caused or exacerbated by many of the challenges that Generation Z now faces: exposure to traumatic political and social events, school shootings and the COVID-19 pandemic.

To bring light to and combat those problems, youth activists from Jacksonville, Fla., have their first in-person meeting planned for July to continue discussing some of the biggest issues they face and ways to overcome them. In May, the activists held a “Community State of Young People” virtual event that was hosted by the Partnership for Child Health, a Jacksonville-based organization dedicated to advance the health and well-being of children, the Center for Children's Rights, a nonprofit dedicated to legal representation for children and America’s Promise Alliance, a national network of groups designed to improve conditions for young people.

More than a dozen youth participants discussed mental health and ways to cope, such as keeping a journal to let out the frustrations they face. They also discussed the stigma and negative associations surrounding mental health issues and their treatment, as well as ways to find coping methods and advocate for the issue. 

“We are more progressive and we are making sure that people feel safe and making sure that changes are made to make sure everyone has a place where they can feel safe and welcome,” said meeting participant Savannah LeNoble, a member of Jacksonville’s March For Our Lives chapter and a recent graduate of Wolfson High School. 

Teens struggle with mental health issues before, during pandemic

High school students have contended with many sources of stress and trauma in recent years, from school shootings to the COVID-19 pandemic.

That has led to deteriorating mental health, including depression, anxiety and a wide range of other mental health disorders. 

To tackle this rising issue, many mental health agencies have joined together to tackle some of the health problems that teens are facing. With the pandemic many teens have taken the opportunity to focus on mental health and using coping mechanisms to help them better their mental health. 

Rise in Teen Suicides

Suicide rates have been rising across the nation, but the problem is even more severe in Jacksonville. Suicide rates in Duval County have more than quadrupled over the past decade, according to data from the Partnership for Child Health.

Nationwide, about 19% of high school students considered suicide over the past year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey. 

That data also shows that 28% of high school students reported being either depressed or have seriously thought about committing suicide. 

Exposure to violence

Over the past three years, the number of children killed or injured by guns has increased by the thousands. In 2019 there were 3,814 children injured or killed by guns nationwide compared to 5,131 in 2020, an increase of 34 percent, according to data from the Gun Violence Archive. 

There have been 68 school shootings since 1999, when two students at Columbine High School in Colorado shot and killed 12 students and one teacher, according to the K-12 School Shooting database maintained by the Center for Homeland Defense and Security. Over time, school shootings have become more frequent, with the number of days between shootings dropping from an average of 124 days from 1999 to 2014, to only 77 days from 2015 to 2018. 

Watching all those shootings, and going through routine drills that prepare students for active shooters, have only added to the stress on today’s teens. More than half of students report fearing a school shooting, according to a 2018 survey conducted by Pew Research Center. 

Angely Pena Agramonte is a Miami high school student and participant in the Urban Health Media Project. She worked on this story with Miami-based UHMP instructor Alan Gomez, a former national reporter for USA TODAY. 


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