Jennifer Lawrence, while accepting her Oscar award in 2013, said: “It’s so bizarre how, in this world, if you have asthma, you take asthma medicine. If you have diabetes, you take diabetes medicine.

“But, as soon as you have to take medication for your mind, there’s such a stigma behind it.”

Anselme Sadiki

Anselme Sadiki

This begs the question: What happens when we ignore or stigmatize mental health issues?

What happens when our attitude towards mental illness is so negative and access for treatment is so scarce it forces those suffering from mental illness to be isolated and too afraid to seek help? And ultimately, how does this affect the lives and upbringing of Idaho’s children and adolescents who struggle with mental illness?

The results of this stigma, including a lack of access to behavioral health care across the state, are disastrous. In Idaho, we have the 5th highest suicide rate in the nation, and suicide is the second cause of death for children and adolescent youth. Every year, we lose on average 26 children age 10 to 18 by suicide, and 90% of those who died by suicide had an underlying mental illness. As alarming as these statistics are, we still struggle as a community to effectively discuss mental illness.

Research from psychiatrists and psychologists points to the need to change our outlook on mental health. Just as we would sympathize with any Idahoan who has cancer or HIV/AIDS, we should also express the same empathy toward someone with a mental illness.

Like any other illness, with treatment and social supports, people with mental illness can live healthy and productive lives. Children with mental illness can reach their full potential, succeed in school, thrive in everyday social environments and become productive citizens. However, positive outcomes are harder to achieve if our youth feel hopeless or like they don’t belong because of their mental illness.

Changing the conversation involves more than switching our mindset. It also encompasses investing in our youth by increasing access to mental health care.

The implementation of Idaho’s Youth Empowerment Services was a crucial step in the process. YES offers start-to-finish resources for Idaho families, from helping find access to providers and then developing unique treatment plans for their mental health conditions. However, there is still more that needs to be done, particularly to increase access to mental health services for children in rural areas.

By creating conversation around mental health, it will double the compassion we are able to show individuals struggling with their own issues. We must change our society’s mindset, and we also must be willing to invest in mental health services for those in need.

Once we can talk about mental health in any form and in any place without shame – from our homes, to our schools, and to our workspaces – only then can we as a society truly begin to work towards a world where those struggling with mental health have a clear path ahead of them towards recovery.

Anselme Sadiki is the executive director of the Children’s Home Society of Idaho.

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