May is Mental Health Month. Our mental health impacts how we feel, think, and behave. It is a factor in managing everyday stress and our relationships with other people. It has a major impact on how we make life choices.

The basic statistics about mental health reveal the significance of psychological and emotional wellness. One in five American adults have experienced a mental health issue, and one in ten young people have experienced a period of major depression. 20% of youth aged 13-18 live with a mental health condition, including mood disorders, behavior or conduct disorders, or an anxiety disorder. 50% of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14.

Jason Martin, Director of Clinical Services for Adventist HealthCare Behavioral Health & Wellness Services in Rockville, recently spoke with Kevin Krueger on the WGTS radio broadcast “Breakaway” about mental health among young people and the serious issue of teen suicide. In the process of sharing the fact that last year in the United States more than 4,600 young people aged 10-24 died from suicide, Jason said something that is all too easy to forget: suicide impacts all of us. The warning signs are too often missed. Each of us, as we relate to young people, can play a role in helping reduce the number of young people who are contemplating ending their own lives. (Listen to the 11-minute podcast here: http://disq.us/t/2o04dc3)

Suicide is relatively rare. Risk factors such as mental illness, substance abuse, family history of suicide, history of being sexually abused and impulsive or aggressive tendencies are often associated with suicide attempts. But, thankfully, very few persons with any of these factors actually commit suicide, making it difficult to predict. There are some possible warning signs that can help raise our awareness. The American Psychological Association summarizes those signs as including:

  • Talking about dying: any mention of dying, disappearing, jumping, shooting oneself, or other types of self-harm.
  • Recent loss: through death, divorce, separation, broken relationships, self-confidence, self-esteem, loss of interest in friends, hobbies, or activities previously enjoyed.
  • Change in personality: sad, withdrawn, irritable, anxious, tired, indecisive, apathetic.
  • Change in behavior: can’t concentrate on school, work, or routine tasks.
  • Change in sleep patterns: insomnia, often with early waking or oversleeping, or nightmares.
  • Change in eating habits: loss of appetite and weight, or overeating.
  • Fear of losing control: acting erratically, harming self or others.
  • Low self-esteem: feeling worthless, shame, overwhelming guilt, self-hatred, “everyone would be better off without me.”
  • No hope for the future: believing things will never get better or that nothing will ever change.

Teen suicide is the second-leading cause of death for young people aged 15 to 24, surpassed only by accidents, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the general population suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. It accounts for the loss of more than 41,000 American lives each year, more than double the number of lives lost to homicide.

Mental health is an important part of the work and ministry of Adventist HealthCare. I am grateful for the skill and dedication of our entire Behavioral Health team, and for their commitment to our mission. We stand with them in their work. During Mental Health Month we can raise awareness of the importance of what we each can do to help bring healing to those impacted by mental illness.