CORNELIUS, N.C. — There's a push for more youth suicide prevention awareness after a William Amos Hough High School student killed themselves just a few weeks into the school year.
"We've had a rocky beginning of our school year," Charlotte-Mecklenburg School board member Rhonda Cheek said. "We're still facing a teenage suicide situation in our community, and really, it's an epidemic."
The American Psychological Association reports 81% of Gen Z teens -- ages 13 to 17 years old -- have experienced more intense stress during the COVID-19 pandemic.
NBC News reports the number of teenage girls who went to the emergency room after a suspected suicide attempt increased by over 50% earlier in 2021.
"It’s a tempest in a teapot," mental health and suicide prevention advocate Fonda Bryant said. "What the schools need to do is let kids know it’s OK not to be OK. You don’t have to be ashamed to come and talk to someone, and if you’re struggling, reach out."
Hough High School, which is located in Cornelius -- a suburb to the north of Charlotte -- already has a support program in place. It's one of the first two high schools in North Carolina to partner with an organization called Sources of Strength. It's a national initiative giving students the tools they need to promote mental health awareness and social support in school and, in turn, discourage bullying, drug abuse and suicide.
The initiative began when both Hough and Charlotte's Providence High School lost a student to suicide on the same day in 2018. Despite that partnership, students have told CMS the return to the classroom is only heightening the stress and pressure.
"Mental health issues continue to be a concern," CMS board chair Elyse Dashew said. "This is a hard year with increased workloads, going back in person has added stress and anxiety for many students."
Mental health advocates say awareness now is needed more than ever.
"Resources are so important," Bryant said. "If we do not have healthy youth, we will not have mentally healthy adults. Let’s get help for the youth on the front end and not wait until something happens."
If you or a loved one are facing thoughts of suicide or self-harm, there is help readily available. You can call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or chat with them online. There are also resources in North Carolina available here and in South Carolina available here.