Susan Parmelee
Susan Parmelee

By Susan Parmelee

A recent study led by the World Health Organization found that 35% of college freshmen in eight countries struggle with mental illness. The two most commonly diagnosed disorders are depression and generalized anxiety. Some researchers suggest that part of this rise is attributed to improved screening and diagnosis; however, this cannot completely account for the fact that one in three young adults is reporting mental health issues.

Additionally, as a country, we are witnessing an increase in suicides among youth in the age group 12-26; sadly, suicide is now the second-leading cause of death for our youth. School districts now provide suicide prevention education in the seventh, ninth and 11th grades. This education needs to be echoed in the home. If you would like tips for starting a conversation in your family about mental health and suicide, please visit mentalhealth.gov/talk/parents-caregivers.

Stigma is often the reason people cite for not seeking care when mental health symptoms arise. Stigma creates guilt, shame and self-doubt, which leads to isolation and fears that one may be a flawed individual. Ending stigma is an important step for improving the mental health of society.

How do we end the stigma? Targeting how we use language associated with the diseases of mental health is key. Imagine if we said, “He is so cancer,” like the way we say, “He is so bipolar.” Both diseases have grave underlying biological and genetic causes, yet we tend to ignorantly toss around mental health terms.

Another step in ending the stigma is implementing reduction tactics and sharing knowledge and support with others. Like learning CPR, there are several mental health basic training courses offered in Orange County. These learning opportunities strive to help reduce suicide rates, improve mental health treatment outcomes and build empathy in our communities.

The National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMIoc.org) presents programs for students, professionals and parents on topics ranging from lowering mental health stigma to better understanding how to support a loved one who is struggling. Mental Health First Aid (mentalhealthfirstaid.org) is an eight-hour course that teaches how to help someone who may be experiencing a mental health or substance-use challenge. The training helps attendees to identify, understand and respond to signs of addictions and mental illnesses.

I encourage everyone who reads this article to have at least one discussion about mental health with someone they care about during this month of mental health awareness. To receive monthly information on supporting teen wellness, please sign up for our bi-monthly ENewsletter at wpc-oc.org and follow us on Facebook @wellnessandpreventioncenterschs.

Susan Parmelee is a mental health social worker and one of the founders of the Wellness & Prevention Center, San Clemente. She can be reached at susan@wellnessandpreventionsanclemente.com.

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