Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for children in North Carolina from ages 10 to 17.
That’s probably the most shocking conclusion of the recently released report on child health in the state by the nonprofit groups N.C. Child and N.C. Institute of Medicine. But it’s not the only troubling one.
North Carolina continues to perform below average when it comes to the well-being of its children, BH Media’s Richard Craver reported earlier this week. For the second consecutive year — the report has been released for 23 years now — there were more “D” grades among the subsets of medical and socioeconomic factors it measures than in years before.
The report (available at: http://tinyurl.com/y2aqcocr)) is organized into four broad categories that include access to care, healthy births, secure homes and neighborhoods and health risk factors. The 2019 version focused on behavioral health issues, particularly the increase in suicide, which has almost doubled over the past 10 years.
Nearly 16 percent of high school students in 2017 reported seriously considering suicide, according to the report. Risk factors included persistent stress, family violence or disruption, trauma, social isolation and bullying.
The figure included 12 percent of heterosexual students as well as a staggering 43 percent of students who identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual.
“Suicide is a multi-factorial problem, complicated by the lack of appropriate mental-health services available to many children in our state,” Dr. Adam Zolotor, president and chief executive of N.C. Institute of Medicine, said in the report.
The ratio of school counselors to students, as well as school nurses to students, received a “D,” as did the categories of healthy eating and active living; tobacco, alcohol and substance use; birth outcomes (the infant mortality rate per 1,000 live births for 2016 was 7.4 percent); and child abuse and neglect.
Housing and economic security received an “F,” and for good reason. Thirty-one percent of white children in the state living in high-poverty neighborhoods, as well as 64 percent of black children and 71 percent of Hispanic children.
There was some positive news this year: The state received an “A” for households in which children were covered by health insurance — 96 percent, whether by private insurance, Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program. North Carolina also rated a “B” in environmental health, immunization and teen births.
But the stress leading to suicide — as well as anxiety and depression — is especially concerning.
“The reality is that many kids have to cope with tremendous stressors and don’t have the supports they need to navigate them,” Michelle Hughes, executive director of N.C. Child, said.
As for what to do about that?
“The solutions run the gamut, from improving the availability of health services in school settings, to reducing children’s access to lethal means of self-harm,” Zolotor said.
There’s definitely a role for legislative action, and we’re pleased to see several bills that have been put forward in this session to increase access to mental-health and general health care.
But they are not enough. These grades don’t lie.
We are failing too many of our children in North Carolina in far too many ways.