Talking openly about mental health can help prevent teen suicides, advocates say
According to nonprofit Mental Health America of Hawaii (MHAH), more than 90% of youth who commit suicide suffer from a mental disorder -- and an increasing number of young people in Hawaii are considering killing themselves.
This week is Mental Illness Awareness Week, and health advocates are calling on the public, especially parents, to talk openly with youth about issues like anxiety, depression, substance abuse and eating disorders.
Ewa Beach resident Zach Angeles says he was reluctant to see a therapist due to the negative connotation, but discovered it helped him manage his anxiety.
"My doctor was like you can't keep doing this to yourself and keep giving yourself more things and doing more things," he said. "Because your body's not going to let you. And so in that moment when I was prescribed a therapist, that negative connotation that comes with therapy really, really, really got me thinking about myself."
Zach is 24 years old, and according to MHAH, it's by that age that 75% of all mental illness start. Advocates believe diagnosis and intervention are critical to helping youth manage their symptoms and preventing teen suicide.
"We see it particularly with men who are afraid to ask for assistance. There's still the stigma that somehow if you have to see a professional, there's something wrong with you," said Pedro Haro, deputy director for Mental Health America of Hawaii. "There's absolutely no shame, the same way if someone were to see a doctor for diabetes."
MHAH is one of several organizations offering free programs and online screenings to help parents start conversations with their children about mental wellness.
"A lot of things are happening, being here, talking about it a lot. It still makes me very anxious. But being able to just sit, and for me, breathing is very important," Zach said. "Taking those moments of really just stop, for me, close my eyes and take the three deep breaths that I need to inhale and exhale the energies that I want."
Energy that Angeles has been able to channel into a cause worth living for.
MHAH is hosting a fundraiser featuring Angeles' artwork at 5 p.m. on Oct. 17 at Cafe Julia at the downtown YWCA in Oahu.
The public is also invited to the National Alliance on Mental Illness' Hawaii Walks tomorrow at 8 a.m. The Oahu walk starts at the Honolulu Hale, and another walk on the Big Island will start at the Queen Liliuokalani Gardens in Hilo.