Mental Wellness Fair offers skills, help to youths, adults

  • By Mary Jane Brell Vujovic and Dr. Gary Goldbaum
  • Friday, April 29, 2016 4:28pm
  • OpinionCommentary

We often hear comments about how much harder it is for children and teens growing up today compared to “the good old days.”

It’s sad to say, but that is more than likely true. The spread of technology, 24/7 news cycles and social media give us evolving ways to interact with people and organizations, instantaneous access to a wealth of information and the ability to stay connected in new and changing ways. However, with these new-found treasures comes a price.

Our youth now have access to a mind-boggling array of information, both good and bad, to the point of becoming desensitized to a lot of issues. The advent of smartphones and tablets has reduced the need for real face-to-face interactions. Why call when you can text? Why text when you can Snapchat? Speaking of social media, don’t even get us started on the potential pitfalls there.

What this boils down to: Our kids, grandkids, neighbors and students are being overwhelmed. They are overwhelmed with a constant flow of information and emotions, and typically ill-equipped on how to handle it all. Then factor in additional stressors: financial, racial, sexual orientation, home-life or lack thereof, bullying, abuse, addiction. What are they supposed to do when this all becomes too much? How can you as a parent, caregiver, teacher, coach, neighbor or friend help stop it from ever getting to the breaking point?

While mental health problems often go undiagnosed in adults, it is especially common among youth. Only 20 percent of all children suffering from a mental illness are diagnosed each year. Eight out of 10 sufferers, therefore, are left to fend for themselves without diagnoses, treatment or any formal care at all. Science tells us that mental health problems often develop early in life. In fact, about half of all mental illnesses start to emerge at age 14, afflictions that carry forward into adolescence and adulthood.

Not receiving help or support for a mental health issue negatively affects a child’s life. Around 10 percent of children suffering from a mental health condition will have symptoms that interfere with their performance in school. Youth may feel isolated or they may have a hard time adjusting to stresses, leading to increased risk of depression or drug use.

Youth substance abuse and suicide rates in Snohomish County are among the highest in the state. The Healthy Youth Survey released last year highlighted that:

10 percent of 12th graders reported engaging in problem or binge drinking;

18 percent of 10th graders had seriously considered suicide; and

25 percent of eighth graders reported experiencing depression that affected their daily activities.

Unfortunately, the phrase “mental health” has a stigma that follows it around like a dark cloud. It’s taboo to talk about, even harder to admit, when help is needed. A startling 18 percent of sixth graders and 25 percent of 12th graders in the Healthy Youth Survey reported that they did not have an adult to turn to when they are feeling hopeless or sad. Let’s change that!

Raising awareness is the first step in overcoming any stigma and providing people with the help they need. That is why Snohomish County Human Services Department set out to create the first annual Children &Youth Mental Wellness Fair to be held 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, May 7 at Evergreen Middle School in Everett.

In addition to more than 90 vendors with resources of all kinds, there will be workshops focused on topics like anxiety and depression, substance abuse, bullying, relationship building with teens, growing up GLBTQ, infant and toddler mental health, parenting young children, and adverse childhood experiences. There will also be performances by Caspar Babypants, former NFL player turned motivational speaker Trent Shelton, The Bubbleman, pizza, family pictures, and activities.

The entire event is free, and everyone is invited to learn what we can do to stand up for Snohomish County youth.

For more details, go to tinyurl.com/SnoCoYouthMentalWellnessFair.

Mary Jane Brell Vujovic is director of Snohomish County Human Services, the department spearheading the mental wellness fair. Dr. Gary Goldbaum is the health officer and director of Snohomish Health District.

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