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Children's Mercy Hospital, mental health advocates host youth mental health summit

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Posted at 6:10 PM, May 21, 2024

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Children’s Mercy Hospital, along with other community leaders, held a youth mental health summit Tuesday morning to address current challenges and disparities.

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“The suicide rates among African American children are rising faster than the suicide rates among white children,” said Emily Snow, senior administrative director of behavioral health at Children's Mercy KC.

The Kansas City community is experiencing a mental health crisis that's impacting adults, teens and kids, experts said. Last year, CMH saw more than 4,000 emergency room visits just for behavioral health issues.

The three biggest barriers are the social stigma around mental health, lack of resources and mental health provider shortage, according to mental health leaders.

“The majority of Missouri and Kansas are mental health professional shortage areas,” Snow said. “We’ll have to adjust our pay and our marketability to bring more people.”

Experts said isolation during the pandemic and social media exposure exacerbated depression and anxiety in children. While more than 15 million American children need mental health resources, only 30-50% are getting the help they need.

“The depression and anxiety that kids are facing today is just, it’s astronomical, and it’s not comparable to anything that we’ve seen before,” Snow said.

To a crowd of mental health advocates and industry leaders, one mother, Susanne, opened up about the time she almost lost her 15-year-old son.

A light-up pen with the number 9-8-8 is what saved her son’s life because she had given it to him just in case.

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“This woman says, 'Ma'am, this is the 988 operator, and your son called us tonight with a very clear plan to kill himself,'” she said. “I know my kid — he’s smart and determined — and when he puts his mind to something, he’s going to do it. And if he hadn’t had this resource, I shudder to think of what I would have woken up to.”

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After a panel discussion, the audience had the opportunity to ask questions.

Children’s Mercy also gave an update on its Illuminate project that launched last year — an investment of $275 million over five years to integrate mental health into primary care.

RELATED | Children's Mercy's Illuminate program seeks to address youth mental health in Kansas City region

The initiative hits four pillars: early intervention, increase in specialty services, investment in research and expanded hospital care.

“I don’t want another parent to go through this, and I want them to tell their kids 988,” Susanne said.