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April 10, 2014

BILL STANCZYKIEWICZ: Indiana's youth are facing an invisible health crisis

Suicide is 2nd leading cause of death among Hoosiers ages 15-24

(Continued)

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, stressful life events can increase the possibility of suicide. Examples include the death of a loved one, a relationship breakup, financial insecurity, school difficulties or a violent family environment. In addition, youth who identify as homosexual, bisexual or transgender are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers.

Bob Coles, vice president of clinical services for Meridian Services, a statewide mental health care provider based in Muncie, alerts parents, educators and youth workers to watch for warning signs of mental illness and suicidal tendencies. The list includes changes in behavior or attitude such as a child who becomes moody, angry or withdrawn. Other potential indicators include changes in appetite or sleeping habits, a decline in spending time with friends and a loss of interest in hobbies or other favorite activities.

“Be aware of those kinds of changes, and then talk with your child about what is going on,” Coles advised. “If you feel like these are behaviors that are significant, or if the behaviors are persistent, then it’s a good idea to get [professional] help.”

If the situation is urgent, call 911 or take your child to the hospital emergency room. Assistance also is available on the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-TALK.

Coles explained that doctors are improving their ability to detect and treat mental illness. “Health care professionals are being educated to look for emotional factors that may be tied to the physical problem that is going on. They then are incorporating additional help such as [mental health] counseling into the medical care.”

Coles emphasized that families should not feel ashamed or stigmatized if they suspect their child has a mental illness.

Tommy John, meanwhile, encouraged families to be informed and be proactive. “If you can get as much information as you can about what to look for and what to do, then you can get your child [proper care],” John said.

Detecting mental illness in children and youth and providing them with prompt medical care can help those kids survive one day at a time. Or as Gavroche and the cast of “Les Miserables” sing so well, “One more dawn. One more day. One day more.”

Bill Stanczykiewicz is president and CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. He can be reached at iyi@iyi.org.

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