The Journal Gazette
Sunday, October 17, 2021 1:00 am

A statewide social network

Supports are plenty for adults - and children - locked in their personal mental struggles

Nicole Fairchild

When I was 6, I rolled a bowling ball through the sliding glass doors of our dining room.

The glass cracking and eventually falling out was not the memory I recall the most. It was my mother standing in the dining room, eyes the size of oranges in disbelief.

My heart was pounding; my head instantly hurt. The fear I felt was overwhelming. I succumbed to an anxiety attack as I waited to see what would happen next.

The fear and anxiety from that moment passed quickly, as my mother was not sure what to do with me and sent me outside to play. This was not always the case; my mother struggled with undiagnosed depression and anxiety most of her life, which left a lasting impact on her children.

Today, I still struggle with anxiety but have learned how to control overwhelming feelings through social and emotional health supports. These supports include exercising, yoga, thinking through decisions and talking about concerns with others.

These skills should be learned early in childhood and practiced through adulthood so we all learn how to respond in various situations.

In recent years, there has been a rise in concerns over youth who have experienced trauma, anxiety, depression, anger, behavioral issues and more.

The past year and a half have exacerbated these concerns.

The pandemic kept these issues behind closed doors, locked away and out of sight. Since March 2020, teachers and organizations have requested our services for social and emotional health programs 590 times, reaching 31,745 students – a 43% increase from before the pandemic.

In 2019, the state of Indiana recognized this increasing need by incorporating social-emotional learning competencies into state standards, giving schools recommendations for addressing mental health in the classroom.

Competencies include emotional skills such as self-awareness, self-management, relationship skills, social awareness and recognizing diversity among peers, critical thinking, responsible decision-making and cognitive flexibility.

Unfortunately, not all children are learning these skills at an early age, nor are adults recognizing the need to address their own mental health concerns.

Here in Allen County, adults are reporting 4.8 mentally unhealthy days per month. One in seven women experiences postpartum depression and anxiety after giving birth but is unlikely to seek support because of the stigma.

The stigma surrounding mental health alienates people from seeking help, including counseling, peer support or medication. Until the stigma surrounding mental health is eliminated, youth and adults will continue to minimize their mental health, pushing their anxiety, depression and trauma down.

This creates larger issues that need to be addressed in adulthood. This is a ripe concoction for an increase in suicide.

In Indiana, suicide is the second-leading cause of death for youth ages 15-24, and the fourth-leading cause of death for youth ages 5-14. Research shows one in five Indiana high school students – about 200,000 of our children – seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year.

Data from the past several years shows this percentage continues to rise.

Indiana ranks second of 34 states measured in the percentage of students who made a suicide plan, and third of 37 states measured in the percentage of students who seriously considered attempting suicide.

Social-emotional health programming and resources for youth and adults are essential to reduce these numbers.

Resources in our community include Mental Health America of Northeast Indiana, which provides evidence-based programming, training and peer support; Allen County System of Care, which holds monthly meetings with 70+ organizations sharing services for families and which recently opened its new Access site, offering a no-wrong-door location to receive services; NAMI, which works to address mental health and stigma surrounding mental health; Great Kids Make Great Communities, which offers regular training for professionals serving youth; and McMillen Health, which offers social and emotional health education programs for students of all ages, abilities and backgrounds.

We need to value and prioritize mental health: our own, our employees' and that of the community – especially our children who cannot navigate alone. We also need to support organizations that work daily to break down stigma by emphasizing social-emotional healthy literacy as a basic educational need.

Consider contributing to an organization addressing mental health for youth and adults today.

Nicole Fairchild is executive director of McMillen Health.

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