‘We’re in a crisis state:’ CDC says suicide rates among young people are up 56% as local community mourns loss

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MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WBTW) – As suicide rates nationwide continue to spike, experts say the country is facing a health crisis.

The renewed concern in the medical community stems from the CDC’s latest report. Released in October, the study details a 56 percent increase in suicide rates among those ages 10-24.

Although it’s a crisis facing the entire county, it also hits close to home.

Just ask Maria Harrington and Kershaw Sturkie.

The two teenagers were posted up in front of Southern Hops in Florence last week, selling 3 dollar bracelets in honor of Caleb Lutz- Maria’s friend and Kershaw’s stepbrother.

18-year-old Caleb Lutz died in October by suicide, his family said. His death came as a shock to the community.

“Always held a conversation,” Harrington described. “Never ran out of anything to say. Ever. He always kept you laughing and on your toes. He was hilarious.”

She said hundreds turned out for his funeral. Hundreds of others are now supporting her and Sturkie’s cause by buying bracelets. The silicone wristbands are emblazoned with the words ‘Forever to 3,’ in reference the number Caleb wore for years on the baseball field.

“We’re donating the money to Miracle League,” Harrington explained. Miracle League is a group that works to bring a modified style of baseball to athletes with physical disabilities.

“It was his love and his passion,” Sturkie added. “It’s what he thrived on and it’s what he enjoyed a lot. He enjoyed giving back. That’s what really made Caleb, Caleb.”

What happened to Caleb, though, is happening more often, according to the CDC’s report.

See the full CDC report here

Suicide rates for people ages 10-24 increased from 6.8 suicides per 100,000 in 2007 to 10.6 per 100,000 a decade later, the report said.

“I would say we’re in a crisis state at this point,” Dr. Christina Lynn said. She’s the Medical Director at Grand Strand Medical’s Behavioral Health Unit.

We asked her what factors may be behind this trend. She explained that while many things can lead up to a person dying by suicide, there are a few things that could be impacting the younger generation’s overall mental health.

“More and more kids are behind a computer screen,” Dr. Lynn said. “Versus out talking to people so you can see them and interact. They become more and more isolated.”

That isolation, she said, is sometimes coupled with cyberbullying, which can cause a lot of stress for someone. Plus, seeing others’ posts on social media can have a negative impact on a teen’s self-esteem.

Credit: National Institute of Mental Health

“You can post anything on social media,” Dr. Lynn said. “You can be the prettiest person. You can put up a fake picture. All of these kids are scared to death to do anything because it’s being plastered on social media.”

Dr. Lynn also cited intensifying social and academic pressures as playing a role in this crisis.

“Sexual pressures. Pressures of using drugs. And then the pressure of trying to graduate,” Dr. Lynn said. “They just don’t know who to talk to. And they’re relying on the internet, which is not really a valid source.”

Waccamaw High School in Pawleys Island is working to provide a valid source for students to go to.

The school hired a full-time mental health counselor this year, following two student suicides last school year.

“We went through a rough patch in the spring,” Principal Adam George said. “It was a difficult time and you know the community really rallied around and we were asking a lot of questions.”

In addition to bringing in the mental health counselor, the school has also implemented something called ‘Tribe Time.’

It happens once a week and is a period where students can practice things like yoga, fantasy-football and chess.

It’s also a time when students can talk openly with teachers about things going on in their lives.

“The school climate this year has really changed- meaning when you stop and ask somebody how they’re doing, I think people stop and really want to hear the answer,” Principal George said. “The biggest message we’re trying to send is you’re never too busy to stop and listen.”

South Carolina Superintendent of Education has said it’s a goal of hers to get a counselor in every public school across the state.

All efforts to try and curb a tragic trend, in hopes fewer have to experience the grief Caleb’s family and friends have.

“I figure everybody would want to kind of have a piece of him everywhere they went,” Maria said, holding a bracelet. ” I had to do it for them because there are so many people that loved Caleb. He had so many friends.”

Caleb was a 2019 graduate of The King’s Academy in Florence. Friends and family describe him as ‘mature,’ ‘hilarious,’ and ‘kind.’ He was known for his love of sports and giving back to the community.

“He’s always been the most hardworking, sweetest, kindest people you’ll ever meet and the lives he touched is just unforgettable,” Kershaw Sturkie said. “And I don’t think anyone anytime soon is going to forget about him because of how deeply he’s touched people.”

Donations in memory of Caleb can be made to the Miracle League of Florence.

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