Committee hears experts on youth violence, mental health

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) – Lawmakers heard some grim statistics concerning youth violence, mental health and gun safety during a legislative committee meeting Wednesday.


Doctors in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Louisville School of Medicine were among those who testified before the Interim Joint Health and Welfare and Family Services Committee on the issue.


Dr. Brit Anderson, an emergency medicine specialist, said they know what it looks like when a child is shot.


“Many people read about children who have been killed or seriously injured in the newspaper,” she testified.  “But before that story is written, I meet that child.  I know what it’s like leading a team to save a life.  Sometimes we succeed, sometimes we do not.”


She told lawmakers it’s more than just being a shooting victim.  “Sadly, one in 25 children in the U. S. have witnessed a shooting in the last year.  Witnessing violence has serious consequences to their health, which lasts a lifetime.”


Anderson says figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show firearm-related injuries, whether homicide, suicide or unintentional, are the third-leading cause of death for children between the ages of one and 17.


Dr. Cynthia Downard, a pediatric surgeon, said the statistics add up to a shocking total.  “On average, 1,300 children die and 5,800 are treated for firearm injuries each year in the U.S.  A little over half of these are homicides, a lot are suicides, and six percent are unknown or unintentional.”


Suicides are on the rise, said Dr. Christopher Peters, a pediatric psychiatrist.  “The CDC recently reported a 30 percent increase in the rate of suicides in this country since 1999.  This idea of a public health crisis—we’re in it.”


He testified that young people attempt suicide on the spur of the moment.  “About a quarter of them told me they made the attempt within five minutes of the decision.  Within an hour it was 70 percent.  So, while there are people who think long and hard about killing themselves, for the majority, it was very impulsive.”


There are some simple ways to prevent youth violence, whether it’s homicide or suicide, according to Peters.  “It’s as simple as locking it up,” he said.  “Keep guns locked and safe, and keep ammunition locked up in a separate location.”


To reduce bullying-related suicides, Peters suggested schools invest in programs that teach children to cope and deal, enhance their true self-confidence, and the teaching of toleration and compassion.

           

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