Advocates recommend bringing mental health resources to schools as 2021 sees increase in teen suicides

Local News

ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — This week, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued a public health advisory addressing a “youth mental health crisis” after the national average of suicide attempts jumped this year.

The report delivered Tuesday attributed the increase to isolation from friends and family, economic instability, and a pervasive sense of fear. The report also said social media and popular culture were factors.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, mental health emergencies increased 24% for kids aged 5 to 11 years old and 31% for kids 12 to 17.

Doug and Jackie Dickason serve as grandparents to four children in their custody, two 10 year old twins, and a 15 and 17-year-old.

Each of the kids have dealt with their own mental issues for some time now, but the Dickasons say the conditions during the pandemic have only made things worse.

“You would open the tablet and they would shut it, [saying] ‘I’m not doing this. I’m not learning anything from this.’ They need the [social] interaction,” Jackie said.

“We’ve had suicide attempts with a couple of them, three, and they’ve been hospitalized for it and it’s very scary, because what if one of them succeeds? Then what do you do?” she continued.

The couple said, at times, they feel helpless, as they’ve tried to get the kids assistance.

“It’s very hard. You never know if you’re walking on eggshells that day or if it’s going to be a positive day,” said Jackie.

Kevin Polky, from family therapy group KP Counseling, at 6392 Linden Road, says that bringing mental health resources to local schools is very important. Currently, his group provides services to Rockford Lutheran and Rockford Christian Schools.

“We are now working on moving in on some public schools and being able to come in and integrate within the school, and provide social and emotional counseling services for students that are at risk, and students in crisis,” he said.

“Something needs to be done, because it’s just going to get worse. Everybody is a voice and everybody needs to stand up, start telling their stories, so people know these kids need help,”

The Dickasons say they encourage other families facing similar circumstances to reach out to local lawmakers and voice their concerns, in the hopes of prioritizing mental health services for teens.

A new bill signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker in October will allow for five excused absences from school without the need for a doctor’s note beginning in January 2022.

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