By Linda Rosenberg
There is a mental health crisis in America. The statistics alone should compel each of us to ask: “What can I do?”
Every 13 minutes, someone in the United States dies by their own hand, making suicide the nation’s 10th-leading cause of death and second among those age 15 to 34. Among children 10 to 14, the suicide rate has caught up with the death rate from traffic accidents. Many times that number attempt suicide each year – more than eight percent of high school students.
But it’s not just the young. Among middle-aged white Americans with no more than a high school education, the historic increase in life expectancy has gone into reverse. Death rates have risen dramatically. Suicides, drug overdoses and alcohol-related liver disease are the main drivers of these “deaths of despair.” Less likely to get or stay married and less likely to participate in the labor force, they increasingly turn to chemical crutches. Alcoholism worsens. Suicide climbs. Addiction takes root.
The opioid epidemic is raging across America – with nearly 100 people dying every day from overdoses. Addiction may start innocently enough, when a person is prescribed a high-powered pain medication, usually opiate-based. For some, use of that prescription painkiller begins a downward spiral to addiction – leaving family members, friends and colleagues at a loss for a way to help.
More than ever, mental health is becoming a concern in the workplace – so much that this year’s World Health Organization World Health Day focused on the toll that anxiety and depression take on the global workplace. In the U.S. alone, depression annually costs in excess of $1 trillion in lost productivity. The human and emotional cost is unmeasurable.
But the numbers are more than mere statistics. They reflect personal experiences. It’s likely that you know someone who is living with a mental illness, lost a loved one to suicide or is struggling to get an adolescent treatment for addiction – we all do.
How can we help? We want to do the right thing, to say the right thing, yet we struggle to find the words.
The time has come when our response to someone with a mental health problem or an addiction is no different than someone with cancer, diabetes or heart disease. Mental Health First Aid offers the tools that enable all of us to have the conversation, to be the difference in the life of someone struggling.
That is why we are launching the “Be the Difference” campaign. Because anyone, anywhere can be the one to make a difference – if you know what to say and what to do. The very skills you need are the skills you learn in Mental Health First Aid.
Mental Health First Aid is an eight-hour in-person training designed for anyone to learn about mental illness and addiction, including risk factors and warning signs. Participants learn a five-step action plan to help people who are living with a mental health challenge or experiencing a crisis. Find courses in your area at MentalHealthFirstAid.org.
Linda Rosenberg is president and CEO of the National Council for Behavioral Health.