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Cook Children's Launches Suicide Prevention Campaign As Child Mental Health Crisis Continues

A woman talks to a young girl sitting on a hospital bed.
Christophe Ena
Associated Press
Psychiatrist Coline Stordeur speaks with a young girl in her room in the pediatric unit of the Robert Debre hospital, in Paris, France, Tuesday, March 2, 2021. Doctors say the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the mental health of children is alarming and plain to see.

A note to readers and listeners – this story discusses suicide. If you need help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or reach out to the Crisis Text Line by texting HELLO to 741741.

During the pandemic, there's been a surge in young adults who have attempted suicide or who've faced mental health struggles. It's led Cook Children's Medical Center to launch its JOY campaign which aims to combat bullying and mental health issues for young people in North Texas.

From January to March, Cook Children’s Medical Center admitted 190 youth patients for attempted suicide. That follows 2020, the first year ever that suicide was the leading cause of traumatic death at the Fort Worth hospital. More children died by suicide than from car wrecks or child abuse.

The campaign's name JOY is an acronym that stands for “Just breathe, open up and you matter." The initiative provides children and families with information like who to contact in a crisis, stories of hope and resilience and videos on how to maintain emotional wellness.

The medical center saw seven suicide-related deaths in the past year, something that psychologist Lisa Elliott said she's never seen before.

“I've worked for Cook Children’s for 27 years and never ever has suicide ever been our number one cause of trauma death. So we've had children die because of motor vehicle accidents or because of child abuse, that suicide is never been the number one reason,” Elliott said.

The JOY campaign is a suicide prevention initiative led by Cook Children's to bring hope and needed resources to children and families facing mental health struggles.

“We heard about that number that Dr. Elliot said, and we were, I think probably shocked and saddened. We knew we absolutely had to do something and we had to do something immediately,” said Laura Van Hoosier, assistant vice president of public relations for the hospital.

She said her team came up with the acronym JOY after an hour-long brainstorming session. On a whiteboard, they wrote down phrases like "bright lights, hopefulness, the sun will come out tomorrow, just hang on," which finally became JOY: Just breathe, open up and you matter.

Van Hoosier and her team pitched the idea to focus groups of children, teens and young adults and launched their campaign earlier this year. Since then, they’ve published six videos on emotional wellness, and 16 articles talking about mental health among youth.

She said her team of writers are passionate about the campaign's mission, diving deep into all angles of mental health.

“It's really something that we're so passionate about, and so really honored to have the privilege to hopefully help children, not just in Dallas Fort Worth, but really across the nation if not the world.”

You can find resources and information about the JOY Campaign here.

Got a tip? Email Haya Panjwani at Follow Haya on Twitter @hayapanjw.

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Haya Panjwani is a general assignment reporter for KUT. She also served as a legislative fellow for The Texas Newsroom during the 2021 legislative session.