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12:38 PM

Flatland KC: Forever 18, Uzi Pecina Seemed OK, But He Wasn’t

By Vicky Diaz-Camacho & Cole Blaise & Brad Austin


Uzi Pecina had an infectious smile and impeccable style, a total sneakerhead.

A musician, he listened to Reggaeton music – particularly Daddy Yankee – and played in his dad’s band, Trio Aztlan, and his own band, Theta Intellect. He was also a proud Mexican American.

Uzi was just 18 years old the day he died by suicide.

Uzi had suppressed his pain for years.

When he was about four years old, fictional characters like Santa Claus and Chuck E. Cheese scared him. But his parents didn’t know those may have been early signs of anxiety, said his mom Adriana Pecina. Otherwise, he was a happy child.

Then, when Uzi transferred to a new middle school, he withdrew from his siblings and holed up in his bedroom. 

Mental health experts in Kansas City say signs like Uzi’s are often overlooked or misunderstood. At times parents assume their child is just sad or mad. But not talking about – or worse, shrugging off – the topic of mental health contributes to the taboo attached to depression or anxiety.

Oscar Orozco, a social worker at Children’s Mercy, works with at-risk children on an almost daily basis. Many times, Orozco is the first person to ask kids about their feelings. Through conversation, he learns when to intervene and find children a therapist or other treatment.

But he says childhood depression and anxiety is not being addressed soon enough.

“A lot of children we see right now coming into our emergency rooms (are) made to believe they can’t talk about what’s going on in their head … what they’re feeling,” he said.

Symptoms in children – from three years old to teens – can hide in plain sight, ranging from stomach aches to sluggish behavior, said Trista Perez-Crawford, a pediatric psychologist at Children's Mercy. She added that it is crucial to talk to children at an earlier age so they know it is OK to express they’re sad, angry or anxious. 

“What we know is actually (minority communities are) having more of these depressive and anxiety type behaviors at a younger age than the majority community,” she said. “It’s something we need to be talking about.” 


Read the full story via Flatland KC

Learn more about Developmental and Behavioral Health at Children's Mercy