Young people and mental health
By Doreen Sutherland, Guest Columnist
Sarasota Herald-Tribune | Posted Mar 3, 2018 at 4:45 AM
The shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School weigh heavily on all our minds, in Florida and across the United States.
Locally, Sarasota County has the ability to address some of the challenges related to mental illness and our at-risk youths, but more money from the Legislature and philanthropy should be devoted to the treatment of mental illness if we are to adequately address our community’s issues.
Twenty percent of youths in Sarasota are living with a mental-health condition. According to 2016 numbers, 10,447 of our young people between 10 and 24 were considered a vulnerable population: In many cases, if provided the right support and services, this is our easiest group to help.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness, the country’s largest grassroots organization for individuals and families affected by mental illness, is becoming increasingly concerned about the dialogue around violence and mental illness — both in the media and in the day-to-day discussions of our neighbors. The narrative threatens to increase stigma and prevent our children from seeking the help they need.
One in five people, including youths, have or will experience a mental illness. The vast majority of people with mental illness are not violent. In fact, they are more likely to be the victims of violence.
Research on the relationship between mental illness and violence shows that certain factors may increase the risks of violence among a small number of individuals with mental illness. These factors include: Co-occurring abuse of alcohol or illegal drugs, untreated psychosis, a past history of violence, and being young and male.
One-half of all mental illness begins by the age of 14 and three-quarters by the age of 24, making middle schools and high schools the most appropriate places to provide mental-health education.
The best way to reduce the risks of violence is through early identification and treatment. Yet nationwide only one-half of diagnosed children receive mental health services in a given year. That translates into about 5,200 children between 10 and 24 in Sarasota County who are not receiving the help they need.
Access to services is often difficult to obtain, but you can take your child to your primary care doctor for an evaluation and referral, contact the county health department or, as a last resort, take your child for evaluation to the Sarasota Memorial Hospital emergency room or the Sarasota Memorial Bayside Center for Behavioral Health.
Sarasota is a caring community in which a high number of police officers have already been trained in Crisis Intervention Team Training. That program, sponsored by NAMI, seeks to ensure that children are treated humanely in the midst of a crisis.
But more can be done. NAMI’s Sarasota County branch recommends that its in-school public awareness program, called “Ending the Silence,” be implemented in all schools in our district. This is a nationally recognized, 50-minute presentation that helps middle and high school students understand mental illness. The program is presented by an adult and a young person living with mental illness and seeks to inform students, parents, teachers and staff about identifying the signs of a mental health condition, and ways to seek help.
Early intervention is essential to improve long-term outcomes for young people with serious mental illness.
A Safe and Drug Free Schools meeting will take up the issue of allowing district schools to include “Ending the Silence” in district schools. It will then be up to individual schools to decide whether or not they will use it. The meeting will occur March 12 at 1:30 pm in Room 101 at The Landings.
Remember, most people living with a mental illness are just like you and me. It’s not a character flaw to have an illness. The flaw is in the ways we sometimes choose to treat our friends and relatives living with a mental illness negatively.
NAMI is available to assist anyone who needs information, referrals or just someone to talk to about their own mental health or that of a loved one or friend.
Doreen Sutherland is vice president of NAMI Sarasota County. For more information or to donate or volunteer, call NAMI at (941) 376-9361.