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'Kids in Crisis' Series Explores Teen Mental Health In Wisconsin

Justin Migliano
Milwaukee PBS
Young people featured in the 'Kids in Crisis' documentary. From left to right, Alex,

Over the past decade, the number of teen suicides in Wisconsin has steadily risen. A new documentary from Milwaukee PBS features four young Wisconsinites who have all contemplated suicide. 

The Kids in Crisis documentary is an extension of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel series by the same name, which explores this mental health crisis.

Rory Linnane is the driving force behind the series, and has spent the last three years reporting on this issue with the Ideas Lab at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. She says one of the best ways to understand the scope of this issue in Wisconsin is through theYouth Risk Behavior Survey, which surveys highschool students in the state. 

"In 2017, 27% of students surveyed through that said that they had experienced symptoms of depression in the past year, 16% said that they had seriously considered suicide, and 8% said they had attempted it," says Linnane.

The documentary is done without narration, with just the kids telling their stories and occasionally citing statistics.

Milwaukee PBS producer Maryann Lazarski says that was an important decision on the part of the filmmakers.  "We have four individuals, young people, who are brave enough to share their stories, right? And so, we really wanted to make sure that it was them telling their stories," she explains.

"It was hard for me to share that information, but as I kept on doing it, it kind of got a little bit easier for me." - Alex Hart Upendo

12-year-old Alex Hart Upendo shares his story in Kids in Crisis. As a child with autism, he faced a lot of bullying. After a particularly rough time, Alex wrote a goodbye letter to his mother. Now, he says, things are better because he can ignore his bullies and he feels more support. 

"I wanted to get my story out there, to other kids that were dealing with the same thing that I was, and I wanted to let them know that they’re not alone," Alex explains. 

Alex and the other kids featured in Kids in Crisis now go around to schools to talk about their experiences with depression and to help kids understand that they're not alone. 

"It was hard for me to share that information, but as I kept on doing it, it kind of got a little bit easier for me," he says.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Milwaukee PBS also teamed up to create a toolkit for people who are experiencing suicidal thoughts or know someone who is dealing with this issue. 

Joy is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.