New central Wis. data finds about 45% of area youth feeling anxious or depressed

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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) -- For the first time since updated data from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction's Youth Risk Behavior Survey and the Marathon County LIFE Report was released, central Wisconsin youth advocates, drug abuse and mental health experts are reviewing what was found together.

The Marathon County Alcohol and Other Drug Partnership Council brought together several organizations invested in these topics to talk about "Growing Healthy Bodies and Minds," and discuss the findings and solutions to issues found in the recently released data. The meeting was held Tuesday afternoon and was open to the public.

"I don't like to look at kids as numbers," Melissa Moore with the partnership said during the meeting. "It's too many. This data is too much."

The data revealed that roughly one in four kids and teens in central Wisconsin reported having anxiety or depression over the last year. Fifteen percent reported self-harm.

"When you have 45% of the population saying they are suffering from anxiety, that is highly significant and that's a call to action," Lee Shipway, executive director of Peaceful Solutions Counseling and a co-creator of the Marathon County School-Based Counseling Consortium said.

Many kids also say they do not feel like they are emotionally supported regularly, with nearly 60% of middle school students feeling that way, increasing to nearly 80% for high school students.

"There still exists a lot of stigma," Hilary Steltenpohl said during the presentation.

She and Alexis Papke are students at the Medical College of Wisconsin. The two conducted a student screening at DC Everest schools and sent consent forms to parents for their students to participate. Out of the 877 forms sent, 134 parents gave consent or 15%. Steltenpohl said while she does not know the reasons why these parents did not consent, she said several interactions with parents made her concerned.

"The parent would look at their student, put them on the spot and say, 'do you need to take this mental health screener?' And the kid would just kind of look down and say, 'oh, no I don't need it.' And then the parent would walk by," she said. "To me, that's kind of unfortunate because I don't think many students put on the spot in a public setting in front of people they don't know are going to say, 'oh yeah, Mom, I need this screener,' or 'oh yeah, Dad, I need this screener.'"

She said of the students that participated, about 48% of students were at high risk for developing a mental disorder. About 16% were also flagged and saw a counselor after answering that they were thinking about ending their life or committing suicide.

Kayley McColley is a recent Wausau West High School graduate, has done a lot of youth advocacy work, and now works as a behavioral health technician at North Central Health Care. She said youth do not often feel like they have spaces to talk about their challenges and that adults in their lives often dismiss those challenges.

"I have ideas and I have feelings and I think that even if there's times where we're not particularly informed on a subject, you know, we want to learn and we want to have our ideas and thoughts taken seriously," she said.

"What I would like parents to take away from this is you need to not turn your back on this," Shipway said. "You need to listen to your children and not just listen, but you need to ask. You need to try to do a weekly check-in with your children in terms of how they are feeling, how they're doing, where are the struggles that they're having at school or with their peers or their friends. They're not just going to come right out and tell you all the time that they're struggling, but if you keep asking repeatedly, then they can tell that you really truly care and that you're going to listen, and then they'll start to open up."