RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – 2020 proved to be a challenging year for everyone. The pandemic brought on new stresses for some while exacerbating ongoing stresses for others.

Now, a new report from North Carolina’s Child Fatality Task Force finds that 2020 was an especially trying time for children.

The report found suicide was the leading cause of death for children between the ages of 10 and 14. In its report, the task force said, “Over the past decade, the youth suicide rate and measures of youth mental health well-being have been worsening.”

Suicide was also found to be the third leading cause of death for teens 15 to 17. Homicide was the leading cause of death for this age group. Firearms were used in 96 percent of those deaths, the report said.

The task force said firearm deaths and suicides were related because guns were used in about half of child suicides. It also said the surge in gun purchases during the pandemic has increased access to firearms.

As a result, the task force is now supporting legislation to launch and fund a new statewide firearm safety initiative, as recommended by the 2017 Firearm Safety Stakeholder group. The program would focus on education and awareness surrounding firearm safe storage and distribution of free gun locks. Funding the program for two years could cost the state $155,700.

“While no single isolated strategy will prevent all of these deaths and injuries, the safe storage of firearms has been proven to be a critical strategy to prevent gun deaths,” the task force said in their report.

The task force’s report found:

  • 525 firearm deaths from 2011-2020
  • 105 firearm deaths in 2020 alone (including 31 suicides)
  • Nearly 200 firearm hospitalizations in 2020
  • Over 435 firearm emergency department visits in 2020

The problem is not isolated to North Carolina. U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has issued a Surgeon General’s Advisory calling for a ‘swift and coordinated response the mental health crisis among children.

“The COVID-19 pandemic further altered their experiences at home, school, and in the community, and the effect on their mental health has been devastating. The future wellbeing of our country depends on how we support and invest in the next generation,” Murthy said.