Guest Opinions

Youth struggles and suicide topic of next Badger Club meeting

A unhappy pre-teen girl at school
A unhappy pre-teen girl at school Kansas City

Attend the Badger Club this Thursday to hear a panel of three experts discuss youth mental health.

Is it really a growing problem? Some adults wonder whether it’s just teens needing to look cool or deep and thus be “depressed.”

We have assembled a panel that can discuss this and more, and each panel member has a unique perspective. One is a young man who has struggled with issues himself and now works at Lutheran Community Services as an advocate for youth.

Another panel member is a high school counselor who works inside the school system, and she will share what she sees every day. Our other guest is a mental health professional who knows our local system and which effective services are in place — and which are not.

So, how are Tri-City youth doing? Data from the Healthy Youth Survey can shed light on that question. The survey is a collaborative effort of the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, the Department of Health, the Department of Social and Health Service's Division of Behavioral Health and Recovery, and Liquor and Cannabis Board.

The 2016 survey indicates that depressive feelings are increasing among youths, and the proportion of students considering suicide in the Tri-City region has almost doubled in a 10-year period, from 2006 to 2016.

Results from the survey for 10th-grade students in our area can be found at

Troubled students affect not only themselves, but the school environment. The Mid-Columbia had seven school-related threats in two days during February 2018. Troubled teens become troubled adults. Last year, 48 people died by suicide in Benton County, which was the most in a decade. Franklin County saw six confirmed deaths by suicide last year. Sadly, those numbers include 12 youths.

Are we seeing an increase in mental health issues due to a changing perception of mental health? Or is it that the world really is more unsafe, creating more anxiety for our youth?

Jean Twenge writes in the Atlantic: “iGens were born between 1995 and 2012, members of this generation are growing up with smartphones, have an Instagram account before they start high school and do not remember a time before the Internet. iGen’s oldest members were early adolescents when the iPhone was introduced in 2007, and high school students when the iPad entered the scene in 2010. A 2017 survey of more than 5,000 American teens found that three out of four owned an iPhone.”

Are the iGens being impacted by their smartphones?

Each panel member will share their opinions and experiences about youth mental health. Then the audience will have 30 minutes to ask questions of the panel.

The panel includes Chandra Markel, Kirsten Metcalf and Travis Rybarski.

Markel is a National Board-Certified School Counselor at Richland High School. She has worked at local high schools in our community for the last 19 years. Her passion is working with at-risk youth, mental health awareness and suicide prevention.

Metcalf is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor. She works as a mental health professional for Greater Columbia Behavioral Health, and is convener for FYSPRT (Family, Youth, System, Roundtable). She has worked in the Tri-Cities in community mental health for 15 years.

Rybarski is a 23-year-old rapper born and raised in the Tri-Cities. He has worked in the youth mental health system for three years, and was served by the system as a youth.

The Columbia Basin Badger Club is a nonpartisan Tri-City organization that is dedicated to civil discourse on topics important to our region.

Mark Lee is a member of the Benton-Franklin Youth Suicide Prevention Coalition.

If you go:

When: 11:30 a.m., Thursday, Sept. 20

Where: Shilo Inn, 50 Comstock St., Richland

Cost: $20 for Badger Club members, $25 for nonmembers and $30 on day of event registration

RSVP: Call 628-6011 or go to