Experts view youth violence as public health crisis

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – A legislative panel explored the issue of violence, mental health and guns among Kentucky’s youth during a recent gathering.

Dr. Brit Anderson, who practices pediatric emergency medicine in Louisville, testified that she realized discussions about firearm injuries can be a divisive topic, but firearm injuries among children is a public health problem. She said recognizing that can allow society to change the conversation and its approach to these injuries.

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“I have choked back tears trying to remain professional as I call a time of death and look down at a tiny body. And I know the horrible, chilling, heart-wrenching wail of a parent who has just lost a child.”

Anderson was among a group of doctors and health professionals who testified. She said the group included gun owners, non-gun owners, Republicans and Democrats brought together because they all treat children impacted by firearm injuries.

Dr. Cynthia Downard, a pediatric surgeon in Louisville, said suicide is the third-leading cause of death for people 10 to 24 years of age in the United States. But in Kentucky, it is the second leading cause of injury-related deaths in this age group. And 58 percent of those deaths are suicides.

“I think this is, again, a significant public health problem we need to pay attention to,” Downard said. “As Dr. Anderson said, the sound of a mother losing her child is something you never forget and I would never want to hear again.”

Dr. Christopher Peters, an adolescent psychiatrist in Louisville, said policymakers need to think of suicide as a preventable death. He said the most common way someone takes their own life is by a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

“The CDC recently reported a 30 percent increase in the rate of suicide for this country since 1999,” Peters said. “Kentucky has its own increase within that average of 30 percent.”

He said teenagers who live in homes with a loaded, unlocked gun are at four times greater risk of killing themselves than if it was unloaded and locked away.

Adams said the group’s presentation was not a referendum on gun ownership or non-gun ownership. She said it just reflected the violence occurring across the nation.

Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, asked what could be done.

Peters said increasing access to health care, improving identification of children who need mental health treatment and limiting children’s access to guns would make a difference.

“It is as simple as locking it up,” he said. “Keep guns locked and safe.”

Co-chair Rep. Addia Wuchner, R-Florence, asked whether mental-health professionals had identified the contributing factors to the increase of anxiety and mental-health issues among the nation’s youth.

“It is a difficult question to answer,” Peters said. “People spend their lives really studying this issue of suicidology.”

Rep. Kimberly Poore Moser, R-Taylor Mill, thanked the group for their presentation.

“This is a critical conversation we need to have,” she said. “It is in the news quite a bit. We need to look at this as a big-picture problem.”

She added that there seems to be a lack of coping skills among the nation’s youth.

Media Release from the Legislative Research Commission