Youth At Risk

This morning, just hours from now, I’ll be speaking to an audience far younger than my usual. I want to tell them about the creative energy they can pour into writing. I want them to know how important it is to have  a sense of connectedness with these wise old mountains, their neighbors, this beleaguered planet. I want them to rekindle curiosity and see with amazement how rich and blessed we are–not in the possessions we purchase but in the things that money can’t buy (although I will try to avoid that cliche.)

In this gathering of 100, 17 will have considered suicide. Read the rest of the stats. Many will already be clinically depressed. Read how very serious a co-morbid condition that truly is.

I will hope that one of those in the 17 percent will find their inner writer and thereby find a world worth joining, celebrating and sharing in words. ___________________________

From MedicalNewsToday: After falling over 28% during the period 1990 – 2003, suicide rates in America for males and females aged 10-24 climbed 8% – this is the largest single one-year rise in 15 years, says a CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) report ‘Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR)’.

In 1990 the suicide rate for 10-24 year-olds was 9.48 per 100,000 people; in 2003 it fell to 6.78 per 100,000 people; in 2004 it rose to 7.32 per 100,000 people.

A previous CDC survey found that among young people in public/private schools in the USA, grades 9-12:

— 17% said they had seriously considered suicide.
— 13% said they had created a plan to commit suicide.
— 8% said they had tried to take their own life.


Depression is not only emotionally debilitating – a new study has found it’s more physically damaging than many chronic diseases.

Researchers from the World Health Organisation (WHO) have studied data from 250,000 people in 60 countries.

One finding from the study is that people who suffer depression on top of a disease such as angina, asthma, arthritis or diabetes fare worse than if they only had the physical condition.

Experts say better treatment for depression would greatly improve people’s overall health.

But Professor Andrews says in Australia less than 30 per cent of depression patients receive good treatment, with anti-depressants and cognitive behaviour therapy.

This is compared to 80 per cent of arthritis patients and 90 per cent of asthma patients who receive good standards of care, he says.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. As the parent of two teenagers, I find those statistics very alarming. How wonderful that you have the opportunity to help these young ones to find their inner voice. I can personally attest to the power of written expression to heal and to be a means of feeling connected to others.

  2. we think we are such a progressive society, but yet this…….

    i know there are many, many factors in this, but i strongly believe the break-down of the family unit plays a huge role and i see this over and over working with kids from broken homes, abusive homes, and detached parenting homes.

    but i also believe that just one consistent, positive, encouraging adult in a child’s life makes all the difference. i hope you inspire these young ‘uns, fred! 🙂

  3. This is such an important discussion. I recently came across this competition that really focuses on empowering and valuing youth as a key part to addressing this issue.

    Ashoka’s Changemakers in collaboration with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, is hosting the competition to find the best innovations addressing youth at risk and youth empowerment. There is 5000$ for the top 3 innovations and a trip to the Change Summit for the top 15 finalists! Lastly, The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation will be looking directly at the competition for potential recipients of $1 million dollars worth of their funding!

    The competition deadline is January 23rd and you can join the Changemakers social entrepreneur community at

    Please let me know if you have any thoughts on great organizations or individuals that are empowering and engaging youth.