RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – North Carolina child suicide rates have reached a two-decade high according to the 2023 report from the Child Fatality Task Force.
“This year’s report shares disturbing data about a significant increase in firearm deaths and injuries to children and a crisis in youth mental health with increased rates of suicide and self-harm,” its authors said.
Executive Director of the task force, Kella Hatcher, said schools across the state count on their school nurses, counselors, psychologists and social workers.
“They’re a team of people that are really important in our school system,” she said. When Hatcher spoke to CBS 17 about addressing the need that is being seen, she said “we would need four times as many school social workers as we have right now.”
Overall, the 2021 child death rate in North Carolina was the highest seen since 2016 according to the report. It found North Carolina saw a 128 percent increase in child death rates from 2019 through 2021.
Suicide was the sixth leading cause of death for all children but it ranked higher among older teens. Suicide was the second leading cause of death for children ages 10 to 14, accounting for 17 percent of deaths. Motor vehicle injuries were the leading cause of death for this group.
It ranked as the third leading cause of death for children 15 to 17, accounting for 18 percent. Homicide was the leading cause of death for this age group.
The state is not alone in its increase child suicide rated. The Task Force’s report found rates increased from ages 10 to 17 increased in North Carolina and nationwide.
Data compiled by the Task Force showed a 46 percent increased in self inflicted injury emergency department for the 10 to 14 age group from 2020 to 2021.
“National and state leaders have acknowledged there is a significant youth mental health crisis underway that requires urgent attention and resources,” the report said.
Because of this, the Task Force is pushing for more school nurses, social workers, counselors and psychologists. The report says while national recommendations call for one social workers for every 250 students, North Carolina has one for every 1,025 students.
“Not only do these professionals connect with students one-on-one to build important relationships and provide counseling, they also connect students and their families to community resources to address or avert a crisis,” the Task Force said.
The group is also pushing lawmakers to support a statewide safe guns storage initiative. The campaign for focus on safe gun storage education and distribute free gun locks.
Firearms were the lethal means used in more than 70 percent of 2021 suicides and homicides, the report found. For teens aged 15 to 17, it was the lethal means used in 83 percent of these incidents.
Getting a hold of these firearms may be too easy. The Task Force said 30 percent of North Carolina high school students reported it would take them less than an house to get their hands on and prepare to fire a gun without an adult’s permission.
“A significant surge in gun sales in recent years elevated the risks of more guns in homes that may not be safely stored, making them accessible to curious young children or youth who may be at risk of harming themselves or others,” the Task Force said.
The Department of Public Safety’s Juvenile Justice Department plans to launch a statewide safe storage education campaign this year. The education campaign will stress the importance of locking up guns at home and not to leaving them behind in vehicles.
Hatcher further told CBS17 it’s going take more than money to solve these problems.
She believes it’s going to take policy changes—and the help of state lawmakers—to really make a difference.
“It’s really important we have enough education and awareness,” said Hatcher. “In recent years, we’ve had to repeat some of our recommendations because they haven’t been reacted to, or they haven’t gotten to the finish line.”