In 2017, one in eight Texas high school students surveyed by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention admitted to attempting suicide, the highest rate on Texas ever and almost twice the national average.
This week, clinicians, educators, and health care providers will discuss the state of teen health in Central Texas. The non-profit People’s Community Clinic, which serves uninsured and medically underserved Central Texas, and its Center for Adolescent Health (CAH) will host the Adolescent Health Symposium on Wednesday, April 3. The symposium comes at a time when teen health issues like anxiety, depression, and vaping are all on the rise.
Celia Neavel, M.D., director of CAH spoke of such problems. “Mental health is an incredible challenge right now,” she said. “There’s a lot of data about depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation. It’s definitely been a real challenge.”
In Central Texas, depression among young people in particular is rising at an alarming rate. According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, suicide is the third leading cause of death among Texas youth between the ages of 15 and 24 – the age range primarily targeted by the CAH and defined by the World health Organization as adolescence.
THE CAH at People’s Community Clinic serves more than 1,000 adolescents in Central Texas. “The other things we see are problems with nutrition and screen time addiction,” Neavel said. “We also do screening for reproductive health. We tackle all of that.”
For youth-serving professionals, health care providers, and adolescents alike, the event will provide a networking and learning opportunity. Presenters will discuss a variety of topics including the connection between peer pressure and teen substance abuse, how to incorporate youth perspectives in a clinic setting and teen legal rights around consent, among other contemporary issues.
The symposium coincides with Teen Health Week, a global initiative established in 2016. This weeklong collaboration brings young people across the world together to raise awareness of how teens are affected by health issues. Next Monday through Sunday, programs will take place across the globe with the goal of encouraging young people to take charge of their wellness and establish healthy routines for the rest of their lives.
Ann Marie Wilke, department coordinator for the CAH, said, “What I’ve heard from teens and young adults in our youth advisory council is that sometimes they do notice something going on with their health, but they don’t always know where to go or how to get there.”
However, there may be other reasons preventing adolescent exposure and transparency over potential health problems.
“They may even be worried that they’re not going to able to pay for it [health care],” Wilke said. It takes the combined efforts to influence young people, increase awareness, and keep them healthy, says Wilke.
PHOTO: Staff of the CAH support teens with mental health issues. Contributed by People's Community Clinic.
NOTE: This article also appeared in the Austin American-Statesman on March 31, 2019.