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Guest Commentary

End mental illness stigma with education

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By Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe
Did you know that one in four people will face mental illness this year?
The National Alliance on Mental Illness says:
Mental illnesses can affect persons of any age, race, religion or income. Mental illnesses are not the result of personal weakness, lack of character or poor upbringing. Mental illnesses are treatable. Most people diagnosed with a serious mental illness can experience relief from their symptoms by actively participating in an individual treatment plan.
We can prevent issues from escalating to crisis with early intervention and by working together.
That is why I sponsored a bill which creates a public awareness campaign aimed at informing citizens of the benefits of early identification, correct referral, and appropriate treatment of those suffering from mental illness.
Throughout our state's history we have seen incredible results from public awareness campaigns. We have made people aware of abused and neglected children and decreased the number of individuals smoking. My hope is by starting a mental health awareness campaign we can bring attention to mental health issues that are critically important to the health and welfare of our state.
The need for action has never been more apparent. Among youth ages 15-24 suicide is the third leading cause of death, accounting for more deaths in that demographic than cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza and chronic lung disease combined. And among those who take their own lives, over 90 percent had some form of mental illness.
Our children aren't the only ones suffering. It came out recently that within the Army there were a record number of suicides among soldiers in 2012, which is little surprise considering the types of stress and trauma they deal with. It's time for those "Support the Troops" bumper stickers to ring true at home as well as abroad, and time for us to step up with the type, quality, and quantity of support our troops deserve.
The human cost is more than enough to stop and take account of the problem. However, there are also economic costs which this campaign could address as well. One estimate puts the indirect economic costs of mental illness in the U.S. at $79 billion. Increased risk of chronic medical problems, loss of productivity due to depression or anxiety, or even risks to our safety or our children's are all avoidable costs if we could just identify, refer, and treat mental illnesses more effectively.
We have a mental health problem. Even worse is the apparent moratorium on talking about it or disseminating useful information to combat it, but my bill will address both in a realistic and meaningful way.

Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell, is the ranking member of the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee.

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