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Mental health due year-round focus

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May is designated as Mental Health Awareness Month. At Family Guidance Center, we want to shine a light on mental health all year long.

Untreated mental illness is pervasive. According to Mental Health America, 40 million Americans have a mental health condition. However, “50 percent of individuals with a severe psychiatric disorder (3.5 million people) are receiving no treatment,” reports Mental Illness Policy Org. In Missouri, it is estimated 40 percent of adults with serious mental illness go without treatment.

Even more alarming, four million children and adolescents in America have a serious mental health disorder, yet 79 percent receive no mental health care, according to the Children’s Mental Health Network. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) notes this leads to 50 percent of these youth dropping out of high school, which will leave them economically and socially disadvantaged the rest of their lives.

Instead of receiving treatment, mentally ill adolescents end up accounting for 70 percent of youth in the juvenile justice system. This is an injustice that is destructive to the youth and costly to society.

The American Journal of Psychiatry estimates $192 billion is lost to untreated mental illness annually. Additionally, the nearly 45,000 annual suicides cost society $56.9 billion a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And the greater loss is on families and loved ones left behind.

The National Institute of Mental Health reports the suicide rate has increased 24 percent over the past 15 years. Another measure found the suicide rate in Missouri increased 34 percent between 2003 and 2014. Missouri has the 17th highest suicide rate in the country and second highest in the Midwest.

As a predominately rural state, Missouri is impacted by the fact the youth suicide rates in rural areas are twice as high as urban areas.

A New York Times analysis shows that since 2014 there have been 239 school shootings resulting in 138 deaths. In the same time period there have been more than 18,000 youth suicides. Both are heartbreaking statistics that require our attention. We must do better and we can.

The good news is we know mental health treatment works. As NAMI states, “the best treatments for serious mental illness are highly effective; between 70 percent and 90 percent of individuals have significant improvement and improved quality of life.” This compares favorably with treatment outcomes for heart disease, hypertension and asthma.

Many new and exciting evidenced-based treatments are now being used at Family Guidance Center and other treatment organizations. At Family Guidance Center we have staff trained in 15 evidenced-based treatments including Integrated Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and more.

Now that we have a growing list of effective treatments, we must grow the workforce. In 2013 a federal report to Congress stated the mental health workforce is “graying out.” Five years later the problem is at crisis levels. Rural areas are particularly impacted; 55 percent of all rural counties have no mental health professionals.

Fortunately, increased access to mental health services is beginning to happen, thanks to efforts of Sen. Roy Blunt. He has led the federal effort to increase funding for mental health services as well as for opioid programs. Sen. Blunt was instrumental in increasing funding for Certified Community Behavioral Health Care Centers such as Family Guidance Center.

Our organization is mission-driven to do more and do it better in preventing and treating mental illness and substance use disorders. But we can’t do it alone. As a society, we need treatment and prevention organizations, schools, law enforcement and the community working together in a coordinated manner to maximize our effort to serve those in need.

In short, we need to shine a light on mental health awareness all year long.

Garry Hammond is president and CEO of Family Guidance Center.

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