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'Our kids are actively struggling' | Austin leaders announce new resources for children's mental health

A new public awareness campaign called "Ask, Listen, Talk, Repeat" wants to equip parents, caregivers and teachers with the tools to support kids struggling.

AUSTIN, Texas — According to leaders in Austin, kids are experiencing a "mental health crisis." That's why they want to equip parents, caregivers and teachers with the tools they need to support them.

A new public awareness campaign called "Ask, Listen, Talk, Repeat" is looking to do that.

At City Hall on Wednesday morning, the City of Austin, Travis County and Integral Care highlighted some of these resources by sharing "conversation cards" that families can use as prompts to start these important talks. The cards will be available in neighborhood centers and libraries. 

Dr. Desmar Walkes, the City of Austin's medical director, cited some statistics to address the mental health crisis. 

"The current crisis is evident in the tragic fact that suicide deaths among our children and youth in the city of Austin has risen by 65% in the past five years," Walkes said. "The same data shows that suicide was the cause of death for 33 young people last year. We must recognize that it isn't just a threat to our youth. Now, unrecognized depression and anxiety and other mental health issues can compound and be compounded to the point that it affects children well into adulthood." 

Austin City Councilmember Natasha Harper-Madison (District 1) said the pandemic affected kids in ways we can never measure completely.

"I watched my kids be socially isolated. I watch my kids actively become different children because of the COVID virus," Harper-Madison said. "I think it's probably immeasurable. We maybe will never know what it actually cost us for us to be in a global pandemic for two years with our kids isolated."

Harper-Madison also delivered a proclamation to let it "be known that whereas the mental health and well-being of our children is critical to the overall development, success and happiness and whereas the COVID-19 pandemic has amplified the challenges that our children face when it comes to mental health including social isolation." 

The campaign website, asklistentalk.org, also provides information on how to spot conditions of mental health issues. These resources are available in English, as well as other languages, including Spanish, Arabic, Mandarin and Vietnamese.

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