DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – Since the pandemic, psychiatrists have said anxiety and depression in children and teenagers is 3-4 times more prevalent. It’s a health crisis UNC Health researchers are working to address. Now have a new program to help.

Banks Bridger always admired the captain of his wrestling team.

“Kaleb was going to wrestle at college. He won the state tournament,” Bridger said. “He was going places.”

He didn’t realize his friend was struggling with mental health issues — until he learned of his death, by suicide. It was the second friend who died that way in just a year.

That happened before the pandemic hit, but Dr. Samantha Meltzer-Brody, the chair of UNC’s psychiatry department, said things have only gotten worse for children and teens.

“Suicide is the second leading cause of death in this age group,” she explained.

“It is a massive public health crisis,” she said. “It’s so important to figure out how we’re going to help them and how we develop novel ways of approaching their mental health needs.”

UNC researchers plan to do that through a new program called the Child and Adolescent Anxiety and Mood Disorders Program (CHAAMP). The nonprofit, Foundation of Hope, donated a million dollars for research and clinical trials to find new ways of treating young people.

“North Carolina is ranked, in the newest report, 42 out of 50 in terms of states in the country in terms of resources available for kids and adolescents’ mental health,” she said.

Bridger, who now works to raise awareness about mental health, hopes the research will enable more young people to get help. He hopes anyone who is struggling now will reach out and tell someone.

“When you can talk about it,” he said, “you can get you the help you need.”

Help is always available. If you are struggling, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.