As we close out Mental Health Awareness Month, I wanted to take this opportunity to talk to parents about a subject that isn't comfortable to talk about... mental health and suicide. Parents, I implore you to talk to your children about both.
There is no health without mental health. Our bodies and minds go together. Let’s face it....you can't take off your head and put it to the side until it feels better. Our brain controls everything. It is the most important organ in our body, and just like the heart, lungs, kidneys and liver, the brain can get sick. However, when it comes to the brain getting sick and the resulting mental condition, those who deal with it are treated differently, and that's where stigma comes in.
Stigma is the number one reason people do not get help for a mental condition and that's also why parents are reluctant to have open discussions about mental health. No one wants to be labeled "crazy,” “insane,” “weird,” “nuts,” or “psycho" and for a lot of parents, it's hard to admit that their child might have a mental condition. But according to the American Psychiatric Association, 1 out of 5 children has a mental condition, with one half of mental disorders beginning by age 14 and 75% by age 24. And research shows the more discussions we have about mental health and suicide the better we as a society are. (Today’s Parent)
To that end, parents must recognize that a mental health disorder is no different than high blood pressure, heart problems or diabetes - with treatment and medication, a mental condition can be controlled and there's recovery. If a mental condition goes untreated, just like the above physical conditions, it will get worse and can result in death. Whether, its by suicide or self-medicating with drugs and alcohol, the outcome won't be positive. 90% of people who take their own lives have a mental condition at the time of their death and many of them have been diagnosed with mental illness.
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The Silent Epidemic
Suicide is called the "Silent Epidemic" in this country because we as a society don't talk much about mental health. If parents don't start having open dialogues about mental health, the suicide rate will continue to soar. Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released its report on suicide in the US and the results are alarming:
- Suicide is at a 30-year high
- For girls ages 10-14, since 1999, the suicide rate has tripled
- For young people ages 10-24, suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death; every 95 minutes, someone in that age range takes their own life
- More teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease COMBINED
- Each day in our nation, there are an average of over 5,400 attempts by children in grades 7-12 and yet four out of five teens who attempt suicide have given clear warning signs (The Jason Foundation)
Locally, Dr. Marion Bish, Executive Director of Student Services for Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools, states that, "In CMS, there are at least 2,000 students every year that contemplate suicide with half of them being in elementary school." When you think about kids in elementary school, it's hard to think of them wanting to end their lives before they have begun. That is why we must talk to our children about mental health and suicide.
Some of the warning signs of a child that may be dealing with a mental health condition are:
- Lack of sleep or too much sleep
- Not eating or eating too much
- Making statements about feeling hopeless or worthless
- Out of character behavior
- Loss of interest in things they once found joy in
- A deepening depression
Additionally, there is a wonderful FREE class that can help parents recognize if a child is dealing with a mental condition or help spot if a child is in a crisis, called Mental Health First Aid for Youth. Taught around Mecklenburg County by several mental health organization and even our local hospitals, (MHA of Central Carolinas, Carolinas Healthcare Systems, Novant and Cardinal Innovations), this class is a must for parents - it can and will save a life.
For other help in our area, parents and caregivers can reach out to the following resources:
Suicide Prevention: 800-273-8255 (Talk)
National Alliance on Mental Illness-Charlotte: http://nami-charlotte.org/
MHA of Central Carolinas: http://www.mhacentralcarolinas.org/
Strategic Behavioral Health: http://www.sbccharlotte.com/
Teen Health Connection: http://www.teenhealthconnection.org/index.php/services/mental-health
It's time to take a stand for mental health. I know it makes a difference because I was diagnosed with depression 21 years ago and I am thriving!