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Making Connections for Healthier Young People

Sep 27, 2017, 10:54 AM

Nearly 20 percent of young adults ages 18 to 25 in the U.S. had a mental health condition in the past year. Of these young adults, more than 1.3 million had a disorder so serious that their ability to function was compromised. More than a third of those 1.3 million young adults also have a substance use disorder. Mental health and substance use problems affect millions of Americans, and recently have received a lot of attention from media and politicians. I’m encouraged by the discussions that have started taking place to help promote positive mental health for everyone.

Today is National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) annual observance to raise awareness that positive mental health is essential to a child’s healthy development from birth. The goals of Awareness Day align with the PTA’s goal of making every child’s potential a reality, and we are pleased that the PTA is a strong supporter of Awareness Day and the National Dialogue on Mental Health—a nationwide conversation that seeks to increase awareness about the early signs of mental health issues, promote conversations about mental and emotional health, and help individuals access appropriate and effective services and supports. These conversations provide opportunities for people to learn more about mental health, share their stories of hope and recovery, ask for help if needed and support one another.

This year, Awareness Day’s national focus is on the importance of social connectedness—a sense of community—that is needed to build resilience in young adults with mental health and substance use disorders between the ages of 16 and 24 years old. We know that through community-based services and connections developed with caring adults, young people can thrive at home, at school, and in the community. We also know that young adults who form positive connections with supportive adults do better in school, are less likely to have interactions with law enforcement and report fewer substance use issues.

Schools are one of the primary settings where mental health problems can be identified. What may appear initially as poor efforts in the classroom or delinquent behavior after school may actually be an undiagnosed mental health need. And while we know peer support is critical, so is having caring, concerned adults in young people’s lives.

Bringing your school community together through what we call a “community conversation” can connect educators and parents in ways that strengthen opportunities for young people to thrive.

I want to thank you for all the work you do to educate and care for the children and youth of America.  Mental health is an essential part of overall health, and when a child or youth is mentally healthy they are more equipped to learn and reach their full potential.  I hope you will consider making a community conversation happen in your school community to talk about ways to promote and support mental health. Then develop a connection with a young person with mental health or substance use problems for a day—or a lifetime. Your support can help them develop the skills they need to become independent and successful adults.

Learn more about Awareness Day and how you can be an adult ally for a young person at www.samhsa.gov/children.