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Sandy Hook Promise launches campaign to shine a light on teenage turmoil

The Kids Are Not Alright
Posted at 8:42 AM, May 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-25 23:45:59-04

COLORADO SPRINGS — We're continuing the conversation on mental health issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic while examining teen suicide rates across the region. Recently, we noticed an email from a group running a public service campaign to give context on how our children may be feeling right now.

It will make you stop and think in reference to everything our children were dealing before 2020 made a huge impact on our lives.

Sandy Hook Promise released the video campaign titled “The Kids Are Not Alright.”

It’s tough to be a kid right now between the isolation, missed graduations and proms, staying in a bedroom 20 hours a day, missing their friends, and being constantly plugged in.

Sandy Hook Promise along with BBDO New York released three powerful PSAs that show the anxiety, isolation, pressure, boredom, and information overload that teens are experiencing.

I spoke with Mark Barden, his son Daniel was killed in the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012.

He is co-founder and managing director of Sandy Hook Promise. The national nonprofit is working to prevent future tragedies and he said their call center is seeing a huge uptick in life safety calls.

“Being a teenager in middle school or high school has its challenges as it is in the best of times,” Barden said, “the pandemic and the resulting quarantine exacerbated all of those challenges.”

Sandy Hook father discusses new campaign targeting teen mental health

The nonprofit wants to get the word out for parents and adults to be aware of any warning signs, including fixation on social media, withdrawal from friends, changing friend groups, mood swings, and changes in behavior.

“These signs don’t necessarily mean that your young loved one is on their way to something terrible or tragic, but they could be, and it certainly can help to be more aware, to be more connected,” Barden said.

He said the emotional situation kids are dealing with now can give rise to various forms of youth violence, including school shootings, suicide, and self-harm.

Experts say the stress right now is a recipe for a “powder keg effect” that might lead to more tragedies when school returns in the fall.

“The end of the pandemic is near, things are going to be back to normal next year, so why is this message still important?” I asked Barden.

“I think it’s even more important now, Elizabeth, because students have been existing, their social lives have primarily been in a digital online landscape,” Barden answered, “so the additional stress now of re-emerging into society and now being social face to face with their peers brings a whole other set of challenges and anxiety with it.”

Barden said we need to be extra vigilant with this new phase of transition and said there are almost always warning signs and it’s up to parents and our community to help protect our kids.

Sandy Hook Promise wants everyone to learn the signs of someone at risk of hurting themselves with its “Know the Signs” program. 12 million people across the country have been trained on it and because of it, they have stopped various forms of violence including school shooting plots and suicide.

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The nonprofit is also pushing for Congress to pass the STANDUP Act. STANDUP= Suicide Training and Awareness Nationally Delivered for Universal Prevention.

It has bipartisan support and if passed it would expand access to evidence-based suicide prevention training for students in grades 6-12 nationwide.

If you or someone you love is struggling, you don't have to wait to get help.

Children's Hospital looks at what schools can do to help treat kids in mental crisis

Colorado is among the worst states in the country in addressing pediatric mental health. In fact, Children's Hospital says we rank 48th overall. On top of that, the demand for pediatric mental health services is skyrocketing in every corner of our state.

Children’s Hospital Colorado leaders formally declared a pediatric mental health "State of Emergency" on Tuesday, during a virtual roundtable event.

Roundtable: Pediatric Mental Health in Colorado

Demand for pediatric mental health services is skyrocketing in every corner of our state. Consistently in 2021, half the kids in the pediatric emergency department waiting rooms were experiencing a mental health crisis.

This issue is widespread, and even affects the facilities that treat kids in crisis.

It's not just in Colorado. The CDC says, mental health-related emergency department visits, involving kids, have increased since last March. In 2019, E-D visits increased 24 percent for 5 to 11-year-olds, and 31 percent, with 12 to 17-year-olds, in 2020.

Colorado and other states have adopted laws, making it so mental and behavioral health, can be added as a reason for students to be absent from school.

"Children of all ages can experience stress that can be too much, and in those cases I really think taking a break is a good idea and a good lesson for children," said "Alison Steier, the Vice President of Mental Health Services at Southwest Human Development. "They need to learn to take care of their own mental health, and its not a good idea to wait until you're over the edge."