Mental health forum set to make a difference

  • Wednesday, November 7, 2018 1:06pm
  • Opinion

Among islanders, Vashon is well known as an activist community, a place where people frequently identify a problem and then go about addressing it.

This week, the person who stepped up is Leigh Weber, the pastor of the Vashon Presbyterian Church. In her pastoral work, she has noticed over and over again that people struggling with mental health, either for themselves or a family member, are often reluctant to seek care. Moreover, for family members, the experience of caring for a loved one with a mental illness can be lonely and isolating.

“This is a place where people are not getting their needs met,” she said about Vashon recently.

She wants to change that. First up is a forum on Saturday, offered in partnership with Vashon Youth & Family Services, and then hopefully, a support group for people caring for a loved one with mental illness. The church, with ample space for people to gather and conveniently located in the heart of town, could provide such a safe space, she said.

We hope this vision will become a reality — first, that Saturday’s event will be well attended and that ongoing support systems will form to help lighten the heavy loads too many people are carrying.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) provides statistics on just how prevalent mental illness is in this country. The numbers also help us understand just how common it is here at home. One in five adults experiences a mental illness; one in 25 adults lives with a serious mental illness.

• One-half of all chronic mental illness begins by age 14; three-quarters by age 24.

• More than 18 percent of adults (42 million) have an anxiety disorder; nearly 7 percent (16 million) live with major depression; 2.6 percent (6 million) have bipolar disorder, and slightly more than 1 percent (2.4 million) live with schizophrenia.

• Worldwide, depression is the leading cause of disability.

• 90 percent of those who die by suicide have an underlying mental illness. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.

Treatment for people who have a mental illness still does not occur often enough. Nearly 60 percent of adults with a mental illness didn’t receive mental health services in the previous year, according to NAMI statistics. For youth, the picture is only marginally better. Nearly 50 per of children and teens ages 8 to 15 didn’t receive mental health services in the previous year. Race makes a large difference, as well. African American and Hispanic Americans used mental health services at about one-half the rate of whites in the past year and Asian Americans at about one-third the rate.

Behind the numbers, of course, are stories of pain and perseverance. We hope that Saturday’s event will open doors, encourage treatment when appropriate and, vitally important, let islanders with mental illness and those who love them know that they have support here at home.

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