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Film Screening Sparks and Continues Conversation about Teen Mental Health

Fifty percent of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14, and 75 percent by age 24, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. At a screening of Hiding in Plain Sight: Youth Mental Illness, a Ken Burns documentary about the mental health crisis among American youth, local mental health experts in Pittsburgh shared that the epidemic of teen mental health was only heightened by the isolation, racial injustice, and societal disassociation that occurred during the pandemic.

The Jewish Healthcare Foundation co-sponsored the screening with WQED, Allegheny Family Network, and The Mentoring Partnership of Southwestern PA on July 7, followed by a panel discussion including Michelle Thomas, director of Training and Program Development for The Mentoring Partnership of SWPA; Shelby Williams, Upstreet Pittsburgh therapist; Twanda Clark Edgal, chief program officer of Gwen's Girls; Sara Nevels, intake department coordinator of Gwen's Girls; Christa Jones, supervisor at Allegheny Family Network; Kathy McQuillan, therapist at PERSAD Center; Laurie Barnett Levine, experienced social worker and CEO of Mental Health America of Southwestern PA; and Abby Rickin-Marks, youth mental health advocate, moderated by Sarah Pesi, Policy Associate at JHF.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported emergency department visits for suspected suicide attempts among persons age 12 to 25 across the United States increased 31% in the proportion of mental health-related emergency department visits that occurred among adolescents aged 12-17 years in 2020. In June 2020, 25% of surveyed adults aged 18-24 years reported experiencing suicidal ideation related to the pandemic in the past 30 days.

According to CDC statistics from 2015, Allegheny County had 9.6 psychiatrists and 28.8 psychologists per 10,000 children age 0-17 years. Aside from the lack of providers, the panel expressed that there is also a lack of racial diversity in available providers and those who accept Medical Assistance.

In the film, youth candidly discussed the emotional rollercoaster of depression, the stigma surrounding mental health diagnoses, and impact of mental health on their everyday life, from early childhood into early adulthood. The panel echoed the film's message and relayed that the issue of mental health is equally concerning in Allegheny County.

The conversation about teen mental health will continue in different spaces in the coming months. This community discussion was important to activate community members to begin addressing the teen mental health crisis with a larger push toward providing care and prevention in the community. An action conversation and debrief will be held at a later date.

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