Editor: In America today approximately one out of five Americans is suffering with a mental health issue, and approximately one in 25 adults is currently experiencing a serious mental illness that substantially interferes with one or more major life activities. Sadly, the rate of suicide is at a 30-year high. According to the American Society for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the 11thleading cause of death in Virginia with one resident of our state losing their life to suicide every seven hours. While this information is shocking enough, it is actually the second leading cause of death for ages 15-34 and the fourth leading cause of death for ages 35-54.
While more individuals are accessing care, an astounding 9 million are struggling with unmet needs. These are our friends, colleagues, neighbors and perhaps our own family members. As CEO of North Spring Behavioral Healthcare, my staff and I have the privilege of serving many members of our community who are experiencing some of the most challenging times of their lives—mental illnesses that are often invisible to the casual observer in ways that physical illnesses are not.
May is Mental Health Awareness month. This month provides us all with an important opportunity for reflection and collective action to address the barriers and ongoing stigma and stereotypes preventing many individuals from getting the care they need.
A recent poll of 1,000 Americans conducted by Research Now provides some noteworthy insights regarding perception and barriers. High percentages of respondents view mental health as equal in importance to physical health. Illnesses like depression and anxiety were cited right along with cancer and heart disease as being amongst the top concerns.
The good news is that there is much hope. Positive outcomes are not only possible, they are experienced every day. Like chronic physical illness, mental illness can be diagnosed and effectively managed. Individuals who were once in despair can regain their mental health and go on to live their best lives. I am privileged to get to see these results on a daily basis at North Spring Behavioral Healthcare.
What can we do within our communities to recognize the signs of mental health issues and assist those in need of care and treatment?
- Listen and show understanding. If you suspect a loved one is struggling, offer to listen and encourage them to seek professional help.
- Share the Lifeline number (800-273-TALK). This is a 24/7 free and confidential support line. Military veterans may press ‘1’ for dedicated support.
- In case of acute emergency, dial 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.Suicide is often preventable when people at risk receive the support that they need. Remember that suicide affects all demographics: different ages, races, ethnicities, sexual orientation, and occupations.
- Our schools should encourage students to pursue careers in mental health fields, whether through nursing, medical, or vocational programs. This is a growing field, and we need the next generation of talented professionals.
Each of us can play a positive role to improve the lives of the millions of Americans suffering from mental health challenges, not just during this month, but every month in every community across the country.
David Winters, CEO/Managing Director
North Spring Behavioral Healthcare