07/20/14 — Teens earn scholarships for health essays

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Teens earn scholarships for health essays

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on July 20, 2014 1:50 AM

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Brent Breedlove, 18, a recent graduate of Rosewood High School who will attend Methodist University in the fall, discusses his first-place essay in the Teen Public Health Perspective Essay Contest at Wednesday night's Board of Health meeting. His topic was suicide and prevention.

Aimee Barnes

Andre Elliott Jr.

Teen suicide. Mental health in Wayne County. The "spiral staircase" of health care costs.

All very adult subjects.

But this year they were the topics chosen by youths who submitted winning essays in the Teen Public Health Perspective Essay Contest, the revamped Abstinence Essay Contest sponsored by the Wayne County Health Department.

Brent Breedlove, a recent graduate of Rosewood High School, where two underclassmen committed suicide earlier in the school year, said he didn't expect to win first place in the scholarship contest. He just wanted to educate others about the third leading cause of death among teens.

The 18-year-old former football player at RHS had played the sport alongside Spenser Garrison, an all-state running back his freshman year. But Garrison didn't play this year, which could have been one of the warning signs that he was going through something, Breedlove said.

Sophomore Garrison, 16, committed suicide on Jan. 13. His girlfriend, Malia Porter, 15, found him and met the same fate, leaving their classmates and the surrounding community reeling.

"We don't know why," Breedlove said. "Suicide is something you have to prevent before that moment."

Instead of reading their essays before the Board of Health this year, the winners gave a PowerPoint presentation before an audience at the Wayne Center on Wednesday night. Now a rising freshman at Methodist University who will major in biology and pre-med, Breedlove received a $1,000 scholarship and a $50 gift card for the first-place finish in the essay contest.

Second place went to Aimee Barnes, a 15-year-old rising sophomore at Wayne Country Day School. She received a $500 scholarship and $50 gift card for her essay, which tackled mental health among young people.

"I have friends that struggle with mental health illnesses, and I have seen how they have adjusted and now work in the county," she said.

An estimated 14 to 20 percent of children in the U.S. are affected by mental illness, she said, including those who struggle with such issues as attention deficit disorder and eating disorders.

She said she interviewed local pediatrician Dr. Jennifer Hoover and discussed the reluctance to diagnose at young ages because of the stigma that might be attached and follow the child throughout their life. One thing she suggested was insurance reform to cover mental health issues.

"By creating more programs that will help the adults with mental illness, they'll be more included in the community. They'll feel more involved," she said.

Andre Elliott Jr., a recent graduate of Wayne Early/Middle College High School, received third place in the contest, for his essay on "The Spiral Staircase of Health Care Costs." The 18-year-old based his submission on his own experience battling the H1N1 virus in 2009.

"It was difficult to watch my mother, who was struggling to pay the bills while also trying to nurse me back to health," he said. "We need everyone, everyone in the nation to make sure that we can reduce and make sure that the health care costs in this nation become lower, and make sure that those standing at the bottom of the long and winding staircase (are taken care of)."

The 18-year-old will attend UNC-Wilmington in the fall to study sociology. His award was a $300 scholarship and a $50 gift card.

This is the 13th year for the essay contest, sponsored jointly by the Health Department and Wayne Council on Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention, said Ta-Kisha Darden, health education specialist at the Health Department.

Teens this year were invited to write on a variety of public health topics of their choosing, she said. From the 28 entries received, topics included abstinence, mental health, suicide, obesity and abortion.

Health Director Davin Madden applauded the winners, saying each demonstrated leadership qualities.

Ms. Darden said the winning essays will soon be posted on the department website, www.wayneteens.com.