RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN)–The pandemic put a spotlight on mental health. According to the World Health Organization, anxiety and depression increased by 25% during the pandemic.

Thursday night, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services hosted a mental health town hall in Nashville. NCDHHS Secretary Kody Kinsley, State Sen. Jim Burgin (R- District 12), and State Rep. James Gailliard (D- District 25) discussed mental health and answered questions from people in the crowd about what the state is doing to improve mental healthcare. 

“If there’s one thing that I think really unites us all, it is a recognition that right now people are stressed and anxious in a way that they never have been before,” Kinsley said.

That’s especially true in children and teens. According to a 2021 CDC survey, 37% of high school students reported they experienced poor mental health during the pandemic. Someone asked how DHHS is collaborating with public schools. Kinsley said one of the biggest challenges is hiring counselors even with investments from the legislature.

Kinsley said another measure DHHS is taking is NC-PAL. It’s a number for primary care doctors to call to access a psychiatrist or psychologist to provide behavioral healthcare to kids in their office.

According to a report from the North Carolina Child Fatality Task Force, suicide was the leading cause of death for children ages 10 to 14 in North Carolina in 2020. 

Kinsley pointed to two things he said could help change that: safe gun storage practices and the 988 suicide and crisis lifeline that launched in July.

“988 has been huge; we’ve had nearly a 50% increase in callers since it’s launched month over month,” Kinsley said.

Kinsley said mental healthcare needs to be looked at as primary care more than specialized care. This was the second of several mental health town hall DHHS is hosting across the state.