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Report: 1 in 5 Valley youths considered suicide; 40% depressed, sad most days

Daily Item - 1/16/2020

Jan. 16--About 40 percent of Valley youth struggle with depression and sadness most days and nearly one in five have contemplated suicide, prompting the Greater Susquehanna Valley United Way and United Way of Columbia and Montour Counties to address the issue in a report released Wednesday.

The Youth Mental Health Task Force, established in December 2018, researched the topic during the past year and found that in addition to potentially deadly consequences, mental health problems may also lead to substance use and abuse and has a negative impact on communities.

"More and more young people are, quite simply, lost, choosing not to go to post-secondary programs but also to not participate in the workforce," the report said, adding that the rate of disconnected youth in Northumberland County is 21 percent or nearly double the national average. "This means far too few skilled workers to replace our retiring Baby Boomers, resulting in our region being on the brink of a workforce crisis."

Denise Seebold, a 2018 Mifflinburg High School graduate, said social media is having a negative effect on young people.

"There is so much pressure on my generation to have this facade. How many 'likes' you get (on social media posts) is your self worth," she said.

Seebold, a marketing and development intern at the United Way, said there is also a positive aspect of social media and she hopes to put that to work in the organization's Kindness Campaign scheduled for Feb. 10-14.

Sponsored by Evangelical Community Hospital, the campaign is focusing on school districts, local businesses and organizations as they encourage acts of kindness throughout the week.

"Mental health is vital to physical health. There is a connection," said Seebold of the campaign that aims to "erase the stigma" of mental health issues.

The Kindness Campaign and the Live United Live music festival at Spyglass Winery in Sunbury on June 6 are just a couple of the initiatives designed to raise awareness about the issue of mental health, said Joanne Troutman, president and CEO of the Greater Susquehanna Valley United Way.

"There is no one solution, everybody has a role to play," she said, adding, "It's not enough to focus on the crisis, we also have to do prevention."

The "Addressing Youth Mental Health in Rural Central Pennsylvania" report released Wednesday found that key barriers to meeting the needs of at-risk youth include a lack of mental health professionals and resources to fund treatment.

Troutman said there are only two child psychiatrists in the region and 22 in-patient behavioral centers in Pennsylvania.

Combined with high-cost of treatment that is often not fully covered by insurance; limited school-based resources and community programs, youth are not getting the medical attention they need, the report said.

Troutman said the task force members are working with area health, education and business partners to meet goals over the next five years, including the development of an action plan in the next three months.

Among the objectives outlined in the report are the establishment of regular trauma and mental health summits; increase access to medical professionals through telemedicine; adoption of a consistent crisis protocol for school resource officers, counselors and social workers.

Long-term goals include having all Valley school districts providing mental health, drug and alcohol counseling services; providing all children who need outside mental health services an assessment within one week of referral and requiring family practice doctors to receiving training in trauma and adverse childhood experiences.

The entire report is available at dailyitem.com and at gsvuw.org.

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