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Youth suicide and homicide is on the rise in Connecticut. Child advocates blame a fragmented mental health care system

mental health scared eyes
Image by Nabiru Alby from Pixabay

The age of children who die by suicide and homicides is getting younger in Connecticut, according to state Child Advocate Sarah Eagen.

”Suicide is now the second-leading cause of preventable death for children starting at age 10,” Eagen said. “It’s a national trend and it is a Connecticut trend. We have also seen an increase in teen homicides. Homicides this year are the highest I have seen in my 10 years as a child advocate.”

The youngest suicide victim this year was an 11-year-old according to the office of the state chief medical examiner. Eagen said that this isn’t the first time a child of that age has died of suicide in the state in the past two years.

To turn the tide on this trend, Eagan recommends more school districts have school-based mental health services.

Howard Sovronsky, the chief behavioral health officer at Connecticut Children's Medical Center said Connecticut lags behind other states in establishing universal school-based mental health services.

“With children returning to in-person learning, having on-site mental health support is critical,” Sovronsky said. “Untreated mental health issues result in poor educational performance. This is not just treating kids' mental health — you’re treating the whole child.”

Sovronsky said much more needs to be done to provide support, education and resources for families as they navigate a fragmented system of care.

He also said that only the most serious patients should be seen in the emergency room. He also encouraged quickly returning kids to the community. Sovronsky said it will significantly improve the current conditions they’re facing.

Trinity Health of New England is facing staff shortages which negatively impacts patients waiting for care.

Vernette Townsend is the chief nursing officer for St. Francis Hospital in Hartford, Connecticut. The hospital is part of Trinity Health. She said all hospitals in Connecticut need more beds and the state needs to increase community services to alleviate the crisis the state is experiencing in its emergency rooms.

“On average, Trinity Health has 10 kids a day as patients with nowhere to go,” Townsend said. “There’s 20-to-25 adult patients holding in our emergency rooms because we don’t have the staff capacity.”

St. Francis is licensed for 30 adult beds and 24 beds in their dual diagnosis unit. Right now, they only have enough staff to cover 18 beds and the child unit is capped at 11 beds because of the lack of resources.

“There seems to be a challenge with psychiatry providers in the state, as well as nurses and mental health workers,” Townsend said.

And when patients are released from the hospital, she said there isn't a lot of community support to help them.

Natalie is a former news fellow with WSHU Public Radio.