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Child mental health statistics are not looking good - This dog plays Uno to help

Therapists are using therapy dogs and games as tools to try to change the statistics in children's mental health.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla — New research on mental health in children and teens is not looking promising, with some calling it a "crisis."

One team on the First Coast is working to change that and a member of the team is very fluffy. Brody is a therapy dog that plays Uno... Sort of.

"We have a lot of kids that are in the foster care system so there's been a lot of loss, abuse, trauma, anxiety," said Karen Hanson, a mental health counselor at LJD Jewish Family and Community Services. 

Hanson is one of the few mental health counselors in Jacksonville who sees first-hand how Brody is changing the way children open up about their mental health. She says the Uno-playing started when a child asked if Brody could be dealt in during a game.

"I've even had kids where they didn't want to talk to me," Hanson said. "I'll say, 'Well tell Brody' and so they'll sit down at Brody's eye level."

Research published Monday in the medical journal Pediatrics shows visits to the emergency room for children five to 19 years old with suicidal thoughts increased nearly 60 percent between 2019 and 2021. The CDC reports suicide as the second-leading cause of death for teens and young adults.

In a time when the word "stigma" is brought up in many mental health conversations, Hanson says pet-assisted therapy helps break it down.

"Whatever the feeling is and it's okay to talk about it," Hanson said. "Animals help open up that space."

The Suicide and Crisis Lifeline number is 988.

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