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Mental Health & Teen Violence: What local advocates say must be done

Published: Nov. 10, 2021 at 12:57 PM EST
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - WTOC Investigates recently told you about an uptick in teen-involved shootings in Savannah. It’s a cycle many people in the community are working hard to break. Advocates say mental health is a big part of that, and that there’s a need for more mental health services.

Those close to the issue say two examples of traumatic events involving Savannah teens highlight that need. One happened in September, when a group of Savannah youth football players were shot at while walking home from a football game. An 11-year-old was shot and rushed to the hospital. They survived.

Another chaotic scene unfolded in October, outside of a Savannah sports complex. Shots rang-out mid-game, forcing parents, children and coaches to take cover. A man died in that shooting.

Advocates say incidents like these have shed light on the trauma some young people are experiencing, and why it’s important they have access to mental health services. For Beverlee Trotter, it’s an issue that hits close to home.

“Mental health resources have to be available in these neighborhoods, especially after an incident. After Trauma,” Trotter said.

Trotter started the non-profit Savannah Youth City to connect young people with after-school activities and other city resources. She feels youth mental health is an issue that has to be taken more seriously... and that the stigma around it, must be broken.

“A man is not going to walk up to a group of his homeboys and say, ‘yo, I’m depressed.’”

Savannah Police Chief Roy Minter tells WTOC addressing mental health plays a critical role in ending teen violence.

“Look at what’s going on in the community,” Minter said. “I mean, it really comes down to strong mental health resources being available in the community.”

Minter said when violent crimes happen, they often cause a ripple effect.

“When you’re looking at individuals who have friends, relatives, school mates who they know have been victims of gun violence, it can be a very traumatic experience on them,” he said.

People familiar with the issue say those experiences can lead to behavioral problems that often boil-over into the classroom. Savannah-Chatham County Public School System (SCCPSS) Director of Student Affairs Dr. Quentina Miller-Fields said it’s important to remember, kids require patience… especially when they’re dealing with traumatic events, or trouble at home.

“All of us didn’t get here because we made all the right decisions,” she said. “But sometimes, it’s because that one person was in our path to say, “hey, you can do better.””

Fields says more help is on the way. The district recently won a grant to add 10 new, full-time mental health clinicians to its staff. That will double the number they have now. They also have a program with the Savannah Police Department (SPD) called Handle with Care, where police notify them if they respond to an incident involving a student.

Advocates say when it comes to helping troubled youth, persistence is key.

“Even the most difficult child, even the child who seems resistant to your help, please continue to try,” Fields said.

“That works,” added Trotter, “because eventually, you build this relationship where young people will say things, like, “I need help.”

For a detailed list of Savannah after school programs compiled on the city’s web site, click here.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness also has a list of links and resources for those struggling with mental health. For a look at those, click here.

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