May Begins Mental Health Awareness Month

Mental illness is a worldwide epidemic that does not discriminate against anyone whose path it crosses. It could be seen as the high school student battling depression who feels that the only way to be heard is to search for his/her parent’s firearm. It could be the anxiety stricken neighbor who has been considering suicide for the past year. Or even your best friend, who is afraid that you will look at them differently if they tell you that they have been sad for a long time.

National debates continue to grow in regards to the public safety of children and adolescents within schools amidst the tragedy of shootings in Aurora, CO and Sandy Hook Elementary school. Not to mention the 13 school shootings that have ensued within the first 6 weeks of 2014.

The question is, what is actually being done to address this growing epidemic?

We need to take this opportunity to educate ourselves on an important piece of legislation that is being considered in Congress as we speak. It is called H.R. 320- Student Support Act.

The Student Support Act is a revision of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. The Bill states that if passed into law the Secretary of Education will match grants of up to $1 million for the additional hiring of school social workers, school counselors, and school psychologists across the nation. The purpose of the addition is solely to aide in the support and wellbeing of children and adolescents suffering with a multitude of mental health issues. Across the nation, the current average caseload of children to support staff is 471 to 1. If passed, the additional funding will cut the insufficient ratio by nearly half.

The Surgeon General of Public Health and Human Services has found that one in every ten children in the United States is suffering with a mental illness. Of that, only one in three are receive the treatment needed to help them succeed. The National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) suggests that one half of chronic mental illness begins by the age of 14.

Some would argue that the passage of this Bill would be costly on taxpayers, however the American Medical Association found that with the rise of individuals with mental health concerns from 1996 to 2006, the projected cost of care went from $35 billion to $58 billion. If that trend continues, it will cost American’s $81 billion in 2016 to fund the treatment of mental health disorders as opposed to the $1 million to aide it its recovery.

We sit in front of our televisions at night hearing about the latest school shootings and feel such sorrow for those who have been affected. We discuss it almost as if it has become a normal occurrence in our society as we stride along throughout our day. We hear the latest reports as the days pass, hoping that events so horrendous never happen to the 22,393 K-12 students who reside within Gallatin County.

But how do we know it won’t? How do we know that our schools are sufficiently staffed with those who have been trained to work with student’s anger, frustrations, and anxieties?

Now that you know what mental illness looks like, what resources could be available, and how much we would be saving in long run, I encourage you to act.

Timing is everything and the time to act on behalf of our Montana children and adolescents is now.

The month of May begins Mental Health Awareness Month. I encourage you to learn one new thing about mental illness and pass it along to just one person. Pass along the fact that NAMI-Bozeman holds a connection support group every month. For more info call Alicia at (406) 600-8102 or (406) 994-9134. Or become an advocate for the importance of this issue by taking 5 minutes out of your day to contact our Montana Representatives and tell them that you are in support of H.R. 320. Follow this link to find our state Representatives and Senators contact information. If you or someone you know is suffering in silence with a mental health disorder, know that you are not alone. There are fellow community members that care and want to help.