Mental-health awareness affects all of us

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A Daily Inter Lake article last week about the Montana Youth Risk Behavior Survey rolled out some sobering statistics about our high school students. Perhaps the most startling revelation in this study, which measures student risk factors, is that depression among teens in Flathead County is at a 10-year high.

Montana students are increasingly reporting mental-health concerns such as suicide attempts and thoughts of suicide. More than one-third of Flathead County students who responded to the 2019 survey felt sad or hopeless for two or more consecutive weeks to the point where they stopped doing some of their usual activities. More than 20 percent of local high school students said they had seriously considered attempting suicide over the past year — another 10-year high statistic.

Just last month the Inter Lake published an article in conjunction with National Suicide Prevention Week that noted Montana tops the nation for the highest suicide rate per capita, and among Montana youths ages 15 to 24, it is the second-highest cause of death.

While there is more awareness of mental-health issues among our youth these days, we need just as much awareness of the resources out there that can help our struggling young people. Montana Office of Public Instruction Superintendent Elsie Arntzen rightly pointed out “these supports must begin early, especially in middle school.” She highlighted her office’s Montana Hope Initiative that encourages a “whole child” approach to education.

To their credit, Flathead schools are paying more attention to mental-health awareness through various grants and programs aimed at helping educators and students in crisis, such as Youth Mental Health First Aid. Kalispell Public Schools just wrapped up a five-year grant that worked to establish a referral system among health providers, public assistance agencies and schools.

But here’s the thing. We can all do our part by tuning in more closely to our friends, families and co-workers to make sure they’re OK.

For World Mental Health Day on Oct. 10, Prince Harry and singer Ed Sheeran teamed up in a video to raise awareness about mental health — and urged everyone to “look out for anybody that might be suffering in silence.”

The famous duo, who used humor to lightly note their own plight as Britain’s most famous redheads, were, however, very serious in their message:

“There’s no need to suffer in silence — share how you’re feeling, ask how someone is doing and listen for the answer. Be willing to ask for help when you need it and know that we are all in this together.”

In this age of impersonal communication — many people prefer to text rather than talk directly to others, and the art of conversation is dying — it’s even more crucial to find those face-to-face and heart-to-heart moments that could very well be life-savers.

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