Firearms were the leading cause of death among children and adolescents in 2020.
The American Academy of Pediatrics says gun violence has replaced the decades-long history of motor vehicle accidents being the leading cause of death among young people, as of 2017 – due to improvements in car safety and the growing number of firearms in homes across the country.
In 2020, the rate of murders with handguns was the highest in 25 years, with more than 10,000 deaths of children and adults under the age of 24 related to firearms, compared to more than 7,900 in 2019.
In fact, gun-related murders have increased by 35% among children and young adults, from 2019 to 2020.
And this has a significant impact on the mental health of young people.
Dion McGill, Head of Communications and Community Outreach at Empowering Chicago Youth at Lurie Children’s Hospital, has worked with young people in and out of the classroom on mental health and trauma. He said that as a veteran, he sees symptoms of PTSD in some: everything from hypersensitivity to lack of impulse control.
“From young people, we just hear this idea that they’re living with built-in trauma and that’s something they’re constantly dealing with,” McGill said. “And I think in some cases adults don’t think about it.”
Dominique Young, a young mentor with BUILD Chicago and a freshman at Malcolm X College, said witnessing gun violence in his community sometimes made him want to “surrender”.
“Trauma and shooting and stuff like that put my wiring in different places,” Young said. “BUILD helped me change and showed me that there is more to life than what I saw in my everyday community.
As a mentor with BUILD, a violence prevention organization, Young travels to different Chicago communities and schools to help young people through trauma and access the support they need.
Indya Pinkard, is a young leader with united communities and a senior from YCCS West who will be attending Wilbur Wright College in the fall. She also does awareness work with students on mental health.
“[We talk about] how we can get them to stand up and make their voices heard,” Pinkard said. “Because a lot of the older generation, they seem to not listen to us and just ignore how we feel when we go through our mental health.”
She said the city can address youth mental health issues by investing in after-school programs, mental health centers and local parks.
Young also said he would like to see the city invest in more therapy services.
“When you break a bone, they insist you go to therapy. But when you have mental health issues, they really don’t give you the therapy you need,” Young said.
This conversation is part of a focus on mental health this month here on Chicago Tonight ahead of the June 27 premiere of the two-part documentary “Hiding in Plain Sight: Youth Mental Illness” presented by Ken Burns on WTTW.