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'We’ve got a lot of work to do' | New report from NC Child Fatality Task Force shows alarming trends

The North Carolina Child Fatality Task Force is now on a mission to start the conversation about mental health among kids.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — There's troubling news in a report released Monday by the North Carolina Child Fatality Task Force.

Editor's Note: This story discusses suicide. Reader discretion is advised.  

The task force found that the suicide rate among kids ages 10 to 17 is at the highest it's been in two decades. 

From the pandemic to social media, experts say there are several reasons for the increase in suicide. It's a public health concern and among the leading causes of death in the United States. 

“One suicide is a huge problem, it’s always been a huge problem, but what we’re seeing are some really alarming shifts,” Stacy Butler of the Crisis Intervention Team at Mecklenburg County Public Health said.

According to the CDC, a student survey showed 22% of North Carolina high school students had seriously considered attempting suicide and 43% felt sad or hopeless. 

“We’ve got a lot of work to do, as adults, as advocates, as state leaders," Tiffany Gladney, NC Child director, policy & government relations, said. 

The North Carolina Child Fatality Task Force is now on a mission to start the conversation about mental health among kids.

The task force is recommending state legislators increase funds to the number of school nurses, social workers, counselors, and psychologists as they are far below national recommendations. 

“The report from the child fatality task force really shows not only the increase but that we need to meet people where they are, or where they should be, which is school," Gladney said.

Experts said parents, guardians, and teachers should look for warning signs in children, like major changes in sleep or appetite. They also say to have conversations about mental health to get rid of the stigma and help more kids before it's too late. 

“If you’re struggling or someone you love is struggling with mental health you’re not alone and it's OK to ask for help,” Gladney said. 

If you or a loved one are facing thoughts of suicide or self-harm, there is help readily available. You can call Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 or chat with them online. There are also resources in North Carolina available here and in South Carolina available here.

The report also highlights firearm death rates for kids have dramatically increased. The state saw an increase of 231% between 2012 and 2021.  

When it comes to homicides, 93% of homicides of kids four and older have involved a gun. 

“This should be a call to action for everybody in our community,” Butler said.

From 2012 to 2021, over 600 North Carolina children were killed by a gun. 

A 2021 CDC student survey showed 30% of North Carolina high school students reported it would take them less than an hour to get and be ready to fire a loaded gun without a parent or other adult’s permission.

It's something Mark Raley with Mothers of Murdered Offspring has seen too often. 

“Looking for power, looking for attention, looking to be the big guy who has a gun, has held a gun, shot a gun -- and not thinking before we react, what that gun can do," Raley said.

The task force is now looking to drive gun death down. 

It's recommending state legislators start a statewide firearm safe storage initiative.  

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“Not only should it be locked, your ammunition should be stored somewhere else, you shouldn’t store ammunition near your firearm, let’s not make it easy on our children," Butler said. 

Experts said solving the problem is two-fold. Not only is it about properly storing guns, but it's also about providing children with the right support at the right time.  

“If we save one child with education it saves a soul," Raley said. “A lot of people think it’s not me it’s not my child, but one day it could be -- let's be proactive.”  

Experts said when kids turn to violence there are usually years of other stressors or struggles, but there are opportunities for support to be provided through parents, therapists, and the school systems.

Contact Lexi Wilson at lwilson@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

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