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Austin's growth is escalating the mental health crisis for children

The number of children in Austin needing mental health care is on the rise (Photo: CBS Austin)

Austin is growing at a record rate and so is the number of children needing mental health care. The problem has escalated so fast Austin is struggling to keep up.

"She was a college freshman," said Karen Ranus. "Very successful, 4.0, leadership team on the campus."

Ranus is describing her daughter who seemed to have it all together as she started college.

"On the surface, you would have never known the depth of the darkness that she was experiencing because of her major depression,” said the Executive Director of NAMI Austin. “She hid it because she was ashamed and thought she was going to disappoint people if she said I need help, I can’t keep doing this.”

It was eight years ago when the Austin mother says she almost lost her daughter to suicide.

“My daughter is like many people in our community. They are too embarrassed and ashamed to talk about what they're struggling with,” said Ranus.

On Wednesday, at the Children's Mental Health Leadership Summit, Ranus helped to end the silence about suicide. She was one of a dozen speakers advocating for more open dialogue about mental illness among children.

“I think the reality is we've got to create a culture in our community in which we talk far more openly and positively about mental health,” said Ranus.

The struggles her family faced are more common than many people think. This year one in five children will experience a mental health issue. In addition, half of all mental illness is evident by the age of 14.

"We've grown very rapidly as a community and I think our systems haven't kept pace with the needs of children," said Ellen Richards, Chief Strategy Officer for Integral Care.

A report from the Children's Mental Health Crisis Task Force recommends that to improve care for children the community needs to remove the stigma associated with mental illness, offer more crisis intervention options and better coordinate care.

"The consequences of failing to do that can mean our children are not able to go to school. They're being kicked out of their homes. It can literally mean the difference between life and death," said Emmitt Hayes, Co-Chair of the Children's Mental Health Crisis Task Force.

To get children more effective care, Ranus says the community needs to accept that mental health is just as important as physical health.

"When one in five people are impacted that's a higher prevalence rate than diabetes, asthma, cancer," said Ranus.

Mental illness can be more lethal than many other physical illnesses. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death among teens.

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