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On Jan. 24, The New York Times aimed a grim spotlight at Nevada in an article about the surge of student suicides since March 2020, and the resulting public pressure to reopen Las Vegas schools for in-person learning. Here in the Silver State, we face not one but two pandemics: COVID-19 and a youth mental health crisis.
Even before the COVID-19 crisis, Nevadans struggled to seek and find mental health help and support. Since COVID-19 hit Nevada, our mental health support system has become even more stressed. Nevada Medical Center Healthcare Report Cards have consistently given the state low marks for mental health. Suicide is the No. 1 cause of death among our youth ages 11-19.
Hope Means Nevada is a statewide initiative created to reverse the suicide rate among Nevada’s youth by creating awareness and education supporting mental wellness. Our mission centers on raising awareness for the importance of mental wellness, reducing the stigma of asking for help and providing prevention and intervention resources, as well as a sense of community for youths who may be struggling in the absence of regular contact with their peers.
At a recent virtual meeting of Hope Means Nevada’s teen committee, students from across the valley articulated their struggles resulting from pandemic-induced social isolation. From distance learning to canceled sports seasons and “rites of passage” such as homecoming dances and prom, participating teens described how many familiar and much-needed escapes and long-anticipated milestones were being taken away from them.
In Nevada’s 2021 legislative session, which began this week, resources available to safeguard students’ mental health could get a welcome addition. A bill sponsored by state Sen. Marilyn Dondero Loop, D-Las Vegas, calls attention to the importance of youth mental health. Inspired by an Oregon bill that passed in 2019, it would afford students three mental health days as excused absences from school. In addition to legitimizing mental health as a valid absence, the Nevada bill would also allow administrators to track students who may be chronically struggling with mental illness. Students can then be referred to a school counselor or district psychologist to provide intervention services before it’s too late.
Hope Means Nevada will continue to work to ensure every youth in our state has hope as we continue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic. We aim to foster a community where teens know they are not alone and can find meaningful mental health resources. For more information, visit HopeMeansNevada.org. If you are in crisis or emotional distress and need immediate help, please call 800-273-TALK.
Julie Murray is co-chair of Hope Means Nevada.
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