COVID-19 has proven itself as an insidious, deadly disease, but it’s not the only one defining this pandemic. Depression and anxiety are two others, and they’re especially plaguing young people right now.
One Wisconsin teenager is trying to turn his own painful suicide attempt into something positive.
Carson Molle was 14, when he shot himself in the head, at home in the middle of the night. His mom found him and called 9-1-1. He was airlifted to Children’s Wisconsin, and miraculously, survived.
“We didn't know if I was ever going to talk again,” said Molle. “We didn't know if I was ever going to be able to open my eyes.”
Molle is now 18. Over the past four years, he has gone through dozens of reconstructive surgeries, and will still have to undergo more.
But he’s thriving. He plays football at Seymour High School, just west of Green Bay.
He will attend The University of Wisconsin Oshkosh next year, where he will continue playing football. He also wants to continue working as a voice for young people who are struggling.
“If we normalize talking about mental health, then there won’t be such a negative stigma around it, because everybody’s talking about it” said Molle. “I really was never educated on the nuances of mental and emotional health as a kid. That was never really a topic in school.”
Molle has hundreds of thousands of followers on social media, and speaks at schools.
He’s open about his struggles with anxiety and depression, as well as the pressures of perfectionism
“I wanted to be the perfect son, friend, brother, student and teammate,” Molle said. “Those were self-imposed expectations. Those weren’t anything anyone had put on me. Then, when I couldn’t live up to that, because no one can, I felt like I wasn’t worthy or valuable. I felt like a disappointment.”
Molle’s parents have joined him in trying to educate others. He says hurting them, Hurting has been the hardest part of his journey.
“It’s really hard to know the pain and guilt I put my family through,” Molle said. “But we’ve talked about it, and our bond has only grown stronger.”
To help more families prevent suicide attempts, Children’s Wisconsin is raising $150 million to expand its mental health offerings over the next five years. That includes hiring more mental health professionals, boosting training programs, doing outreach in schools, providing early intervention programs and screening at all doctor appointments.
“We need to talk about emotional and behavioral health in the same way we talk about stomach aches, fevers and any other physical illness,” said Dr. Elizabeth Fischer, an assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the Medical College of Wisconsin. “Kids and teenagers are vulnerable. The human brain is not fully mature until somewhere in the late 20’s. Especially the frontal lobes, where we really do all of our planning, inhibit behavior, and consider consequences. Those sections are not mature yet.”
According to The Centers for Disease Control, as of 2019, suicide is the second leading cause of death in the 14- to 19-year-old age group. And nearly 19 percent of high school students think seriously about killing themselves, while about 9 percent actually attempt it. The pandemic anticipated to make these numbers worse, but that data hasn’t come in yet.
We do know, in the past year, the proportion of emergency room visits for mental health issues increased by about 25 to 30 percent depending on the age, for those five to 17 years old. That’s also according to the CDC.
Children’s Wisconsin is expanding its psychiatric response team in emergency rooms.
“So that families are not leaving the emergency room with a recommendation to see a therapist, but no direction,” said Dr. Fischer.
To this day, Molle still sees the same Children’s Wisconsin therapist he first met with after attempting suicide. It’s a relationship he says helped him get to this point.
“I just want other kids who may be feeling really down to know there is a light at the end of the tunnel, because I've been there,” said Molle. “I know the feelings of darkness, hopelessness, and the feeling that the only way you're going to make them go away is by trying to take your own life. But I’ve been there, and I’ve gotten past it. You can get back to a place where you are happy and healthy.”
If you know of a child or teen that is struggling, Dr. Fischer recommends first reaching out to their pediatrician, who can hopefully refer you to the best next step. You can also always call the Mental and Behavioral Health Access Center at Children’s Wisconsin at 414-266-3339.