Community Leaders Discuss Problems Affecting Kansas City, St. Louis Youth

UniverCities Exchange is a continuing collaborative of UMKC and UMSL.

Academic and community leaders from Kansas City and St. Louis met virtually on Oct. 13 to discuss issues local adolescents have faced throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

The session was conducted through UniverCities Exchange, an ongoing collaborative project between UMKC and UMSL. In this installment, the panel discussed how Missouri youth are adjusting to the complexity of nearly two years of life in the era of COVID-19.

Between March and May of 2020, the United States saw a nearly 25% increase in appointments for children ages 5-11 experiencing a mental health emergency, and a 31% increase for children ages 12-17. This year, those numbers have climbed an additional 15%.

The panel discussed how Missouri youth are adjusting to the complexity of nearly two years of life in the era of COVID-19.

Steve Kraske, host of KCUR's Up to Date and UMKC journalism professor, served as moderator. Panelists included:

  • Nora Peterman, UMKC Assistant Professor of Education
  • Erika Gibbs, Dean of Primary School, Citizens of the World Charter School, Kansas City
  • Dr. Jerry Dunn, Executive Director, Children's Advocacy Services of Greater St. Louis
  • Dr. Tyler Smith, Fellowship Program Director, Divison of General Academic Pediatrics, Children's Mercy Kansas City
  • Rachel Taube, Project Director for Mental Health First Aid, Missouri Institute of Mental Health

Here are some highlights of the panel's conversation regarding the problems youth in Kansas City and St. Louis fae and how our communities are addressing them.

Please note: This conversation features content that some may find upsetting- including conversations on abuse and suicide. We encourage those who need help for themselves or a loved one to seek it out. The UM System assists in providing free Mental Health First Aid training and, for those in crisis, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255.

"The pandemic has certainly had an impact on the mental health of the generation that is moving into and through adolescence right now. As we look at statistics, they are documenting only the surge in mental health emergencies. But what we have to keep in mind is those health emergencies really represent only the tip of the iceberg and that we have a far greater proportion of our youth who are underneath that tip of the iceberg, whose functioning and overall well-being has been significantly impacted." -Jerry Dunn

"Online spaces and online communities have become even more meaningful and significant in the daily lives of adolescents than ever before. Whether we're talking about TikTok, gaming websites, fandom communities, these are all spaces online where adolescents are engaged in this constant process of figuring out who they are, can audition different identities and make connections with other people who can help them figure it out." -Nora Peterman

"We have to look at what's happening currently in our society. In addition to young people dealing with a pandemic, there was also a heightened awareness of racial and social injustice and reckoning. There were young people who were seeing on a TV screen, a gentleman literally dying before their eyes and that is very traumatizing and traumatic for young people to have to experience." -Tyler Smith

 "We really try to make sure that we emphasize self-care, make sure that they have support throughout the day whenever they need things, bathroom breaks, because the burnout is real. There's been an extreme amount of pressure." -Erika Gibbs

"There are lots of ways to help. We know that oftentimes when adolescents experience mental health challenges, they talk to their peers, but we also know that they go to family members and friends. So it's important for lots of folks to be able to respond." -Rachel Taube

UniverCities Exchange gathers community leaders and academic experts to discuss problems and possible solutions to issues affecting the Kansas City and St. Louis metro areas. The project began in fall 2020 with a discussion of health disparities during the COVID pandemic. The goal of these conversations is to foster a connection for future collaboration across Missouri.

Watch the full UniverCities Exchange discussion below:

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