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To tackle mental health crisis among youth, CT experts call for action and legislation

From left: Steven Girelli, president and CEO of the Blingberg family center, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Robert Muro president and CEO of the CT Council of Family Services, and Dr. Laine Taylor Chief Medical Officer of The Village.
Maricarmen Cajahuaringa
Connecticut Public
From left: Steven Girelli, president and CEO of the Blingberg family center, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Robert Muro president and CEO of the CT Council of Family Services, and Dr. Laine Taylor Chief Medical Officer of The Village.

Mental health experts and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal are calling for action on the growing mental health crisis of youth suicide.

Monday's event in Hartford's North End highlighted the significant increase in youth suicides, particularly among adolescents aged 10 to 24. Some are calling it an epidemic.

Blumenthal is a co-sponsor of the Child Suicide Prevention and Lethal Means Safety Act, federal legislation that aims to provide support and resources for youth.

“We know we can do something,” Blumenthal said. “That's why I've introduced the Child Suicide Prevention and Lethal Means Safety Act to support care and counseling. Wherever children can be reached in the schools, in doctors’ offices, in emergency departments, anywhere that children may go.”

A perfect storm of factors has created a dire situation for children, including social media influence, pandemic-related isolation, domestic violence and inadequate mental health resources, Blumenthal said. The stigma surrounding mental health care also remains a significant barrier for parents who might delay seeking help for their struggling children.

Dr. Laine Taylor, chief medical officer at The Village, emphasized the importance of ongoing funding and support for mental health services, crisis intervention and suicide prevention initiatives.

“We're standing in a building that is one of four urgent crisis centers created in Connecticut,” Taylor said. “Rather than walk into a sterile hospital environment where you're amongst the physically ill and individuals suffering from physical trauma, you can walk into a warm, kid-friendly environment to be seen by a multidisciplinary team. And then we can connect you to a community mental health provider that will support you in the long term.”

Early intervention and comprehensive support systems are critical, experts said. School-based mental health clinics, community crisis centers, and screening programs play a vital role in identifying and addressing mental health concerns among children and adolescents. Increasing access to these resources and promoting awareness can help mitigate the risk of suicide and provide hope for youth, they said.

Steven Girelli, president and CEO of the Klingberg Family Centers, emphasized that mental health challenges among Black and brown children are exacerbated by systemic factors such as discrimination and toxicity within culturally-diverse school environments.

“Two factors that are closely associated with suicidal behavior are loneliness, isolation, feeling disconnected,” Girelli said. “And if you're in a community where you're not being accepted, where you're being harassed and ridiculed, that really exacerbates the sense of aloneness.”

Trauma is another big factor associated with suicidal behavior and children who are experiencing intense harassment due to their ethnicity are at higher risk, Girelli said.

Maricarmen Cajahuaringa is a journalist with extensive experience in Latino communities' politics, social issues, and culture. She founded Boceto Media, a digital Spanish-language newspaper based in Connecticut. Maricarmen holds a Bachelor's in Social Work from Springfield College, and a Master's in Journalism and Media Production from Sacred Heart University. As a reporter for Connecticut Public, she is dedicated to delivering accurate and informative coverage of the Hispanic/Latino population in the region. Maricarmen is an experienced and passionate journalist who strives to bring a voice to the stories of her community.
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