We read about the tragic results of untreated mental illness everyday. The mass shootings at Newtown, Tucson, Aurora and Virginia Tech were all perpetuated by students or young people with reported mental health issues. The effects of mental illness are not always so high profile — most people with mental illness are non-violent — but for the 1 in 17 Americans living with a serious mental illness the consequences are significant.
Our youth are particularly hard hit. Mental illness frequently strikes when people are young with 50 percent the cases of mental illness starting by the time an individual is 14 and three quarters by the age of 24. The consequences can be devastating. Suicide is the third-leading cause of death for people ages 10-24. More than 90 percent of those who commit suicide have a diagnosable mental disorder.
The U.S. Surgeon General estimates that close to 10 percent of students will suffer from some form of mental illness that will impact their ability to function at home and in school. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, untreated mental illness can lead to unnecessary disability, unemployment, substance abuse, homelessness, inappropriate incarcerations and suicide. Approximately 50 percent of students with mental health issues drop out of school. Seventy percent of the youth in a juvenile detention facility have some form of mental illness. Unfortunately, despite the obvious need, nationally, less than 50 percent of youth with mental health issues receive treatment in a given year.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Early intervention is an important step. Seventy to 90 percent of people with mental illness see significant improvement with treatment. With better information and services, we can make a difference. Few of us will go through life without being faced with the challenges and stigma of family or friends experiencing mental illness. Our natural response is often to hide these issues or hope they can be fixed through willpower or discipline. But if we truly want to reduce the crimes associated with mental illness, the family traumas and more, we have to face these issues out in the open. Mental illness can be treated, but only if it is not ignored.
This month, I’m hosting a forum on youth mental health issues. Experts around the country, Del. Scott Surovell and U.S. Rep. Jim Moran, will join us. In the last legislative session I worked to expand Mental Health First Aid and to increase awareness of mental health issues. At this forum, we’ll talk about what is happening in legislation at the state and national level. We’ll hear from our schools and Community Services Board. We’ll talk about your priorities for future legislation and policy changes. There will also be time for questions and comments.
In addition to the terrible impacts on our friends and family, our country spends approximately $100 billion each year as a result of untreated mental illness. Our community, our state and our country need to face these issues head-on. By sharing information and working together as a community we can help students and families tackle mental illness and go on to live happy, productive lives. I look forward to your help and input into this important work.