TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Experts say the pandemic only magnified mental health illnesses among children.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows between February and March of 2021, ER visits for suspected suicide attempts were up more than 50% compared to the same time frame in 2019.

“When I was in middle school, I struggled a lot with social anxiety,” said Emma Macguire, junior at Alonso High School. “To me, it wasn’t a safe feeling. I felt very exposed, and I feel like I didn’t have anyone to talk to about my struggles.”

Now that Macguire is in high school, she started a mental health club and she’s hoping to bring the mental health discussion into elementary schools.

“From school shootings to ‘am I going to get Covid?’ to ‘is it safe?’ to ‘I’m not just happy because things at home have changed,” said Natasha A. Pierre, a mental health educator.

Pierre said high school and college students are among the most vulnerable population. This age group has suicide as the second leading cause of death.

“I believe there’s a stigma because people don’t know how to respond to people that are having mental health issues or the crisis,” said Macguire.

A negative stigma that Florida Blue and the Tampa Bay Lightning are working to change— with Strike Stigma of Mental Health symposium. It’s a multi-year initiative created in partnership with Florida Blue and Vinik Sports Group to leverage the sport of hockey to provide education and awareness around mental well-being. The goal is to provide solutions that can be utilized to achieve positive, sustainable results on the overall mental well-being of the Tampa Bay community.

“We’re going to need everybody – students, parents, principals, regular citizens – it’s going to take the entire village to attack the stigma,” Derrick Brooks, founder of Derrick Brooks Charities and former Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker.

Pierre says students today have pressures previous generations did not have.

“If we have a demographic and a generation that doesn’t want to be here that doesn’t feel like there’s space or place for them what does that say about,” she said.

Sometimes a child is not going to share with a parent.

“They feel like that’s added stress on a parent that’s already stressed, so they’ll internalize and hold onto it and they look at less healthy options to relieve stress,” said Pierre.

Pierre encourages parents to pay attention to their children’s changes and get them into counseling as early as possible. There are also resources including:
The national suicide prevention line by calling 988 for help as well as Tampa Bay Cares at 211.