May 27, 2022 - News

Texas kids are caught in the middle of the mental health, gun control debate

A shadowy picture of a girl with her hand to her face
Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

Members of the Texas House education committee were hearing about the poor state of students' mental health when an 18-year-old gunman opened fire in an elementary school classroom in Uvalde, killing 19 children and two adults.

Driving the news: Gov. Greg Abbott said during a news conference Wednesday that the state’s government needs “to find a way to target that mental health challenge,” referring to whatever led the shooter to charge into the school.

  • Abbott also said he couldn't diagnose the shooter's mental health status because "I'm not a doctor. I can't classify these things."

Why it matters: Health officials are sounding the alarm on both the increase of depression and anxiety among children and the rise in deaths of kids by firearms.

And children are caught in the middle of the political debate.

What's happening: Firearms were the leading cause of death for children age 1 and older for the first time in 2020, the most recent year for which CDC data is available, reports Axios' Caitlin Owens.

  • About 30% of the 4,368 children up to age 19 killed by guns in 2020 died by suicide. Another two-thirds were homicide victims.

What they're saying: "We have created a culture, an environment that says having a firearm will provide an answer to every problem you’ve got," said state Rep. Harold Dutton Jr, who chairs the education committee, per The 74, a nonprofit newsroom covering education.

The big picture: Texas school districts don’t have enough mental health providers for students. A Houston Chronicle investigation found that 98% of students attend school in districts that do not meet the Texas Education Agency’s recommendation of one counselor per 250 students.

What you can do: Talk to your kids. Share your feelings and listen to theirs, mental health experts said this week during a Cook Children's Medical Center live event on Facebook.

  • "We need to make sure the kids feel secure and safe despite what’s going on around them," said Dr. Daniel Guzman, who runs a program at the hospital to prevent gun injuries and deaths in children.

Go deeper: Cook Children's launched the Joy campaign last year after a surge in suicides and attempted suicides. The effort shares coping strategies.

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