While headlines of recent events attribute many terrible public tragedies to untreated or undetected mental illness, there are even greater tragedies occurring in the lives of Missouri’s youth. The increasing prevalence of mental illness in young people, combined with daily pressures and demands, has created conditions ripe for an epidemic of suicide.
The Missouri Institute of Mental Health reports that "suicide was the third leading cause of death in Missouri among youth/young adults ages 15-24 in 2011 and accounted for 16 percent of all deaths in this age group." Additionally surveys showed that 12.4 percent of all Missouri high school students and 15.7 percent of female high school students reported they seriously considered suicide in 2012 (Missouri Student Survey 2012).
One may wonder what is causing this trend. But more importantly, what can be done, by friends, parents and the community, to decrease these tragic events?
Learn to listen. Take the time to listen to children, grandchildren and other young friends and relatives. Communication is critical in recognizing potential concerns before they become major problems. In addition, becoming educated in order to identify and find help to those who may have mental health concerns is crucial.
One way to accomplish this is through a program called Mental Health First Aid. The Missouri Department of Mental Health describes MHFA as "… a course designed to teach the general public how to recognize symptoms of mental health problems, how to offer and provide initial help, and how to guide a person towards appropriate treatments and other supportive help." Through programs such as this, becoming familiar with the problem makes it easier to recognize.
Working to decrease the stigma that is sometimes associated with seeking help for mental illness is vitally important.
Some in our society believe mental illness is synonymous with weakness. This assumption is not only wrong, it is insulting. Mental illness is a disease of the brain – not unlike asthma is a disease of the lungs or cataracts a disease of the eyes.
To stereotype someone because of a physiological condition is cruel and uncaring. Encouraging young people who suffer from mental illness to seek competent help is critical in overcoming this stigma.
The issues surrounding the detection and treatment of mental illness among the young people of Missouri are much too complex to be addressed and resolved with just a couple of simple ideas. But education and raising awareness of the problems can ultimately lead to positive outcomes.
For more information about Mental Health First Aid go to http://mhfamissouri.org/
Stewart Chase is vice president, operations, at ReDiscover Mental Health Services in Lees Summit. Chase is a member of Lees Summits Health Education Advisory Board, a Mayor-appointed, volunteer board that promotes and advocates community health by assessing health issues, educating the public and government agencies, developing plans to address health issues, encouraging partnerships and evaluating the outcomes.