Recently I learned of the Minnetonka High School students who are raising awareness for Mental Health through a student-run organization called MHS Wellness. Since May is Mental Health Month, they have been very active. Among other things, last week they painted the rock in front of the school green for Mental Health Awareness. They wrote “Mental Health Matters” on the rock. Then they painted the initials of each student that has died as the result of mental health issues since the current seniors were freshmen. I saw my Ana’s “AP” in the front and I was incredibly moved. I know the others who have relatives’ initials painted there feel the same way. What a remarkable way to say, “Mental Health Matters and here’s why — we lost all these friends because of it”.
To these students I say: “You are amazing. Keep doing all the amazing things you’re doing. The world needs all your amazingness.”
To the students in other school districts: Please feel free to imitate or make up your own versions. Legendary acts of kindness and commitment to good causes should be replicated. Whatever your form of recognition, fundraising or honor, it will make a difference.
We are fighting a big battle when it comes to mental illness. One in five people suffer from mental illness in the United States. That’s 46.6 million people. There has been a 33 percent increase in suicides since 1999. Children and young adults seem to be suffering at epidemic levels, as suicide was the No. 2 cause of death for children and young adults from age 10 to 24 in 2017. This is truly a crisis that needs our attention now.
If you’re wondering what you can do to help, here are a few ideas:
- Talk openly about mental health. If you have a story, share it with others. Stop the stigma.
- Support mental health initiatives in schools. Schools are the right place to develop a culture conducive to mental health. Encourage a curriculum that fosters an environment of kindness and inclusiveness. Make sure they have the interest of every single child in mind.
- Participate in a fundraising event for mental health research or suicide prevention. Or just donate to one.
- Reach out to people who are struggling. Have the hard conversations. Ask direct questions like “You’ve seemed very quiet lately. Is everything ok?” See the NAMI or AFSP websites for more specific ideas and guidelines.
- Follow up with your friends. In a recent study, it was shown that people who were struggling were more likely to recover if they had consistent follow up. Send them text messages, call them, let them know you care. If they don’t respond, keep connecting anyway.
Helping someone in one of these ways may not change the world, but for that one person, it will change their world. There is no act too small. If one person is helped, your efforts are worthwhile.
Toni Plante grew up in Wayzata. She lives in Minnetonka with her husband, Al, and their two dogs. Her remaining child, Leo, lives in NYC. She, her family and extended family all miss Ana terribly. Suicide prevention and mental health are her passion. She is not a therapist or a counselor. She is a parent who is committed to making a difference by sharing her experience.
This column is meant to offer insight and awareness, not advice. If you have suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.