Statewide report shows 2021 teen suicide rates the highest in decades

Local youth advocates say it's all part of a mental health crisis, but parents can make a difference.
Published: Feb. 28, 2023 at 6:28 PM EST
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - A new report from the statewide Child Fatality Task Force shows youth suicide rates are the highest they have been in two decades.

The annual report shows 43% of high school students reported consistently feeling sad or hopeless in 2021. Nearly a quarter considered taking their own lives, and 10% attempted suicide.

It’s the latest information that has state and national officials calling for urgent action to combat the youth mental health crisis. Those in Wilmington who work with young people say it’s not just teens, either – children of all ages have begun experiencing struggles with their emotions since the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think we have a lot of kids who are disconnected, who are struggling with relationships with their friends,” said Hilary Ozenbaugh, a student support specialist with Communities in Schools of Cape Fear. “Their grades might be dropping. But then we also have the opposite side where kids are acting out more, they’re getting in more fights. They’re struggling to show up to school.”

Experts say signs of mental health struggles can show up as changes in appetite or sleep habits, but some children don’t show any obvious signs they’re struggling.

That’s why Amanda Ronne, the program director for Coastal Horizons’ Wilmington Health Access for Teens (WHAT) clinic, says it’s important to talk with your children about how they’re feeling and let them know it’s okay to feel sad or lonely sometimes.

“It’s really hard, depending on different dynamics, it’s really hard to really know how someone’s doing without just asking,” Ronne said.

The Child Fatality Task Force is now asking legislators in Raleigh to put more funding into mental health resources in schools, like social workers and counselors.

But experts say adults can make a difference in a child’s life by simply asking how they’re doing.

“I use the cliché ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day,’ and it’s kind of just beating the small battles first before attacking the big battles,” said Anthony Nixon, a student support specialist for Communities in Schools. “Take the small victories one day at a time and know that there’s always someone out there who cares about you.”

Communities in Schools has student support specialists available at many schools in the Wilmington area. More information about the organization can be found on their website.

Coastal Horizons also offers mental health support services to children through the WHAT Clinic.

The full report from the Child Fatality Task Force can be found here.