Why teen mental health in Chatham is pertinent

BY ZACHARY HORNER, News + Record Staff
Posted 11/22/19

One in nine.

That’s how many Chatham County high schoolers have self-reported that they’ve attempted suicide. That’s how many Chatham adolescents say they’ve tried to end their own life.

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Why teen mental health in Chatham is pertinent

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One in nine.

That’s how many Chatham County high schoolers have self-reported that they’ve attempted suicide. That’s how many Chatham adolescents say they’ve tried to end their own life.

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for Chatham and American youth, and those numbers have just gone up in recent years.

So teen mental health seemed to be a natural fit for the first season of “The Chatcast,” the new podcast series from the Chatham News + Record and Our Chatham, a project at the UNC-Chapel Hill’s Reese News Lab in the Hussman School of Journalism and Media.

According to the 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, one-third of Chatham high schoolers said they felt so sad or hopeless almost every day for more than two weeks in a row that they stopped doing some usual activities. This was within the year prior to the survey being conducted. This lack of engagement in activity is one of the primary symptoms of depression. Additionally, nearly 1 in 5 said they had seriously considered attempting suicide and 1 in 9 said they had actually attempted suicide in the previous 12 months.

For most of the people interviewed for “The Age of Anxiety,” the title for season one, adolescent depression and anxiety is on the rise and even higher than at any other time in recent memory.

“I definitely think that the numbers seem appropriate to me — sadly, I guess,” said Wilder Horner, social work supervisor at the Chatham County Department of Social Services. “I think they’re in line with what we’re seeing trend-wise across the whole nation. So it’s one of those areas where I think if it’s not something that you do or pay attention to, look really out of the ordinary, and then when you really start really looking at states and nationwide data, it’s more common than you would think.”

As Horner stated, a decline in mental health among teens is a nationwide trend. According to a Pew Research Center survey from 2018, 70 percent of teens surveyed said that anxiety and depression are a quote “major problem among people their age in the community where they live” — a higher rate than bullying, drug addiction and alcohol use. 

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 20 percent of American youth aged 13-18 live with a mental health condition, and half of all mental health disorders begin by age 14. 

According to the U.S. Surgeon General, 11 percent of youth have been diagnosed with a mental illness but two-thirds of adolescents who have a condition are not identified and do not receive mental health services.

Jennifer Brannon, the student support specialist at Chatham Charter School, said she sees anxiety, usually defined as high or extreme stress that inhibits or restricts normal everyday activities.

“Just in juggling everything — the social pressures, the family pressures, the societal pressures, the pressures they put on themselves as well as academic pressures,” she said.

Rob Schooley, the the School Health, Physical Education and Wellness Instructional Program Facilitator for Chatham County Schools, said that education professionals and others in the field of working with teens are more aware of issues than they have been in the past.

“So we can put a name with it,” Schooley said. “What does anxiety look like 20 years ago versus now? It was the same, but we can put a name with it. This isn’t just the teenagers being teenagers. This is what anxiety looks like.”

And as statistics say, there’s no ethnicity, gender or socioeconomic class that is immune from struggling with mental health disorders. Renita Foxx, a licensed professional counselor and director of Chatham County Court Programs, said she sees it.

“People need to realize that mental health doesn’t just happen inside of one culture or one community,” Foxx said. “It doesn’t happen just inside of one socioeconomic background or one family. It happens worldwide. It happens right here in Chatham County, and if you don’t take the steps to correct or support your mental health at a young age, it will have devastating lifetime effects on you.”

“The Age of Anxiety,” season one of “The Chatcast,” will be available for free on December 13 on outlets such as Apple Podcasts and Spotify, as well as on chathamnewsrecord.com. For more information, visit chathamnewsrecord.com/chatcast.

Reporter Zachary Horner can be reached at zhorner@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @ZachHornerCNR.


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