Published On: Mon, May 20th, 2019

Mental Illness is Common, Treatable

C. Ron Allen

Boca Raton, FL – The scratches on his arm, the despair in his eyes and the cracking of his voice led me to think something was wrong. I probed gingerly for a few minutes and then the boy, 15, poured his heart out. He was bullied in school because he had “feminine tendencies”, was struggling academically, and had lost his best friend tragically three years ago. His machismo upbringing kept him from telling anyone what he was going through. The sign was gouge tracks on his wrist, a temporary fix to mask the pain he was experiencing.

Many youths live with untreated trauma and are exposed to harsh treatment and penalties for behavior considered a normal in other cultures. We live these stories everyday – the woman with the blank stare walking out of work, the once slender girl who eats her way to obesity to hide her insecurities and the young girl wearing super short, tight pants you think is sexy, but is done for attention she does not get at home. One in every four or five adults in the U.S. lives with a mental health condition. The sad truth is, less than half ever seek treatment because of the stigma associated with mental illness and affordability. How many people know the signs of mental illness, or the resources available to treat them? To raise awareness and provide help for those struggling with mental illness, all this month, a group of local mental health advocates are joining their counterparts around the country to educate the public through sessions and workshop For more than 20 years community champion Rita Thrasher and her organization, Boca Raton’s Promise, have been providing education and awareness activities to identify and access mental health services around Palm Beach County early. The Promise, which will be making a bombshell announcement on May 23, joins Mental Health America and its affiliates, which have been observing May as Mental Health Month for the past 70 years. They use the media, local events and screenings to reach millions of people.

Despite the campaigns, there are two other communities – both near and dear to me – that are not
being reached: veterans and people of color. Suicide currently plagues our veteran community, particularly young vets fresh from war. The Department of Veterans Affairs released a 46-page suicide analysis that found that every year between 2005 and 2015, more than 6,000 veterans killed themselves. That’s about 60,000 people who fought for this country and 1.5 times greater than the number of suicides in the non-veteran population. Let’s face it, they did not die in the war overseas, they died at home. These veterans sacrificed for this country and when they needed help the most, this was not provided.

Most self-destructive are young male veterans in their 20s, who are dying at four times the rate
of their civilian counterparts. Female veterans were 2.4 times more likely to choose suicide than
civilian peers, the study showed. As a veteran, I know quite well the maze in which we vets often find ourselves. Several service members including close friends have, for years, been navigating their way through the VA system to get the treatment they need.

Every new instance of veteran suicide showcases a barrier to access. It is crucial that the
government do more to stop this epidemic, which has become a source of national shame, and
institute better screening mechanism for enlistees in the armed services. Another group that is largely at risk is Hispanics. One in 10 people in the Hispanic community with a mental illness use mental health services from a general physician compared to only one in 20 who get the same service from a mental
health specialist. Machismo and other cultural tendencies are preventing our loved ones from being open and honest. We must let them know that seeking support is a sign of strength and there is absolutely
zero shame in asking for help.

Earlier this week I was shocked to learn that one in four Latina adolescent girls considered
suicide. That is higher than any other demographic. The increasing diversity of our country
underlines both the need and importance of assessing culturally and linguistically appropriate
services. To address the challenge among our youth, I think we should begin with school-based mental health program. When I suggested this to an administrator recently, the quick response was “And
then those schools would be labeled as ‘crazy schools.” Still, despite the stigma and the fear, we cannot give up. Addressing the issues early can help save lives.

People experiencing a mental health challenge can access a plethora of services by calling the
County’s 24-hour, multilingual Access and Crisis Line at 561-383-1111 or 561-801-4357 or
888-516-2083.

C. Ron Allen can be reached at crallen@Delraybeachtribune.com or 561-665-0151.

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