INDIANAPOLIS - Hoosier children are facing a health crisis, experts say, with almost 20 percent experiencing mental health challenges.
Many are not getting the care necessary to help them deal with those issues, said Bill Stanczykiewicz, president and chief executive of the Indiana Youth Institute. Even more concerning, he said, is that 19 percent of Indiana students have contemplated suicide - the highest rate in the nation.
"Eleven percent of Indiana teenagers have actually attempted suicide," he said. "That's the second-highest rate in the country. So here in the Hoosier State, our teenagers are telling us this is a serious challenge that we need to be aware of."
Stanczykiewicz said the best prevention and detection of mental-health challenges happens through relationships at home, at school, and at community organizations. The State Commission on Improving the Status of Children listed undiagnosed and untreated mental illness as top concerns among Hoosier youth.
Stanczykiewicz said parents and educators should watch for warnings signs including changes in behavior or attitude.
"Young people who are overly despondent, overly sad for weeks at a time, not just the normal teen angst," he said. "Kids who start giving their possessions away, start talking about not being around anymore. Kids who had favorite activities and they abruptly stop. Kids who had friends and they abruptly stop hanging out with those friends."
According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, stressful life events such as death of a loved one, a relationship breakup, or school difficulties can increase the possibility of suicide. In addition, youth who identify as homosexual, bisexual or transgender are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers.
Stanczykiewicz said the key is to detect that a child has a challenge and get them the help they need. He said the family physician is a good place to start.
"Physicians more and more are receiving specific training on mental illness," he said. "Even if they are not an expert themselves, they have enough awareness to watch for the warning signs to detect where mental illness may be occurring and make the proper referral."
If the situation seems urgent, he said, people should call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK.