Mental Health Awareness Month

  • Fri May 13th, 2016 5:13pm

By Barbara Starr

Do you know that May is Mental Health Awareness Month? Nationally, twenty percent of both adults and youth experience mental health problems in any given year. In San Juan County, this means that 2,755 adults and 452 youth ages 13-18 have experienced a mental health problem this year alone. In addition, approximately 641 adults in our county live with a serious mental illness such as major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or posttraumatic stress.

Historically, there have been many barriers to mental health treatment, including lack of services and the stigma associated with mental illness. Although we have made significant progress in both areas, we need to continue to move forward in our understanding of and response to mental illness.

Symptoms of chronic mental illness often emerge in adolescence and early adulthood, 50% are diagnosed by age 14, and 75% by the age the of 24. Since we know that early identification and treatment make a significant difference in the management of or recovery from mental illness, we need to practice good self-care and learn the symptoms of mental illness to get help when needed.

Anyone can be vulnerable to mental health problems, including children and adults who’ve experienced abuse, trauma or neglect, or who are coping with difficult life circumstances such as divorce, poverty or prejudice. Harsh childhood experiences such as those mentioned above are associated with a higher lifelong risk of mental illness, addiction, obesity, autoimmune disorders, and even heart disease. Clearly, everything that happens to us affects us in body, mind and spirit. We need to work together as individuals, families, and communities to support each other, and we need treatment that addresses the whole person.

At Compass Health, the county’s community mental health center, we strive to do just that. We provide mental health and chemical dependency treatment to children, families and individuals with Medicaid insurance. Our mental health and chemical dependency treatment providers work together to provide integrated treatment to clients. We communicate with clients’ medical providers, teachers and others to provide a support and safety net for our clients. Experience shows us that when people receive compassionate, integrated treatment, they do better. Their symptoms tend to improve more quickly and recovery is more lasting when the person has meaningful support and connections in the community. It takes ALL of us, working together, to keep our community healthy.

If you or a loved one are experiencing a mental health crisis, please call the Crisis Line at 1-800-584-3578. If you need mental health services and have Medicaid insurance, please call Compass Health at 378-2669. If you need health insurance, please call the family resource center on your island to make an appointment for assistance in signing up. For more information about resources for individuals and loved ones coping with mental illness, check out the National Alliance on Mental Illness and take the “stigma free pledge” at

“Break the silence, break the stigma.”

Barbara Starr, LICSW is the Program Manager for Compass Health in San Juan County.