ORLANDO, Fla. – With children back in school, teachers are noticing the long-term effects of the pandemic: more children are dealing with emotional issues, according to the Mental Health Association of Central Florida.
Marni Stahlman, president and CEO of the association, said hospitals are also taking notice, seeing more suicide attempts by teens.
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The suicide rate among young people is at a 20-year all-time high, Stahlman said, so the association is pleading with people to become “lifeguards” for their loved ones.
Six compelling videos, some of them shocking, produced by the Mental Health Association, explain what a lifeguard is.
The videos show a dad at his son’s gravesite and a woman at a barbeque struggling with depression and anxiety.
“These were meant to be a conversation starter and help the parents and these family members understand that we have kids around us that are struggling, that are in crisis and it’s an epidemic,” Stahlman said. “We have children that are dying and we need to save them.”
Stahlman said almost 9% of all kids in grades 9 through 12 have tried to commit suicide at least once in the past 12 months. She said hospitals confirm that statistic.
“In Central Florida, I don’t have specific numbers but I can tell you that Emergency Departments are why we’re seeing this rise,” Stahlman said. “They’re the ones that are reporting out that they’re seeing rises in children presenting with self-harming behaviors. Children and adolescents, also the young adult side of this.”
So the videos aren’t just meant to shock, they’re meant to offer a solution.
Each one encourages everyone — friends, parents, classmates, teachers — to become a lifeguard in the very literal sense.
“We had to make somebody stand up and notice,” Stahlman said. “And if it’s a dramatic episode like what we’re seeing here, that’s the mechanism. But the end result is we’re seeing people connecting, we’re seeing lifeguards take our pledge. We’re seeing parents and teens and young adults saying they want to do something to make a difference.
All six of the videos are playing on Youtube, Facebook, Tiktok and Instagram right now and they’re getting results together. Stahlman is tracking it.
“Are they clicking through the website, are they taking the pledge, is our phone ringing here at the Mental Health Association?” Stahlman said. “And the answer to all these questions is yes. We’d like it to do more, but it’s yes. And that’s what these are about.”
If you’re willing to become a lifeguard, take the pledge at the You Are a Lifeguard website.
The Mental Health Association will then send you information and resources to help you keep that pledge.
If you’re feeling like you need to reach out to someone right now, please call the Mental Health Association at 407-898-0110. Or dial 988 for the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.