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'I think everybody in my school struggles': A closer look at mental health awareness for young people

A closer look at mental health awareness for young people
A closer look at mental health awareness for young people 03:22

CHICAGO (CBS) -- May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and this afternoon, CBS 2 is focusing on the mental health of children. 

What should parents look for in their kids? And how should they respond if a child shows signs of depression or anxiety? CBS 2's Jim Williams takes a closer look. 

Cameron James is an active 17-year-old who lives in the south suburbs. He's a running back and safety on his high school football team. A standout student and athlete. But said he shares one thing with many of his school mates.

"If I'm being honest, I think everybody in my school struggles from mental health problems. It's bad. If it's not the stress at home, then it's the stress from school," James said.

Across the state of Illinois, 20% of kids have mental health problems, according Doctor John Walkup, Chair of the psychiatry department at Lurie Children's Hospital.

Half of those kids, he said, get effective clinical help. Others little or no help. Then COVID hit and isolation followed.

"Those kids were surviving, going to school with family support, after school activities, peer relationships - all of that stuff was kind of holding those kids in place - they weren't doing great but it was holding them in place. You take all of that away and those kids become symptomatic," Walkup said.

Doctor Walkup urges parents to closely monitor their kids' behavior before they become teenagers.

"What we're looking at in adolescence is kids with depression and kids with anxiety who have never been identified and treated. That group of kids is at high risk," Walkup said.

And at a time when it's hard for even adults to get the professional services they need. Doctor Walkup said families and non profit groups are invaluable.

"Family and extended family coming together to provide care, taking for those kids are struggling with behavioral health problems, religious resources, community, neighbors, anything you can do to build a structure," Walkup said. "Anything you can do build a structure around a kid who's suffering from mental health problems is really important."

The CDC said children with anxiety have extreme fears. They're afraid of school or the future. They can have trouble breathing. Children with depression can feel sad, hopeless or irritable a lot of the time. They exhibit changes in sleeping, eating and energy.

Cameron tells us his mother, who works in the mental health field, and coaches have been enormously supportive, during an especially difficult time in his life. 

 Last October, as he tried to stop a fight on a sidewalk, he and two friends were shot. One died.

He said he has PTSD, depression and anxiety.

"It made me not want to be around people anymore. Not to talk to people. I just want to be alone all the time," he said.

Cameron said he's better today and is now doing what he can to help his peers suffering from mental health problems.

"Let them know they're not crazy for feeling the way they feel. Even if you haven't been in that situation, it's still important to be there. Let them know it's going to be OK."

In addition to recommending professional help, Dr. Walkup of Lurie Children's Hospital tells us rigorous physical activity -- exercise -- has been shown to be effective in combating depression. And predictability and routine in a child's life are antidotes to anxiety.

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