Silence equals death. I heard Patrick Kennedy say this on a program I was watching. He was discussing mental wellness. He was discussing the "things we don't talk about" at our kitchen tables. Our country has a history of stigma around mental health, and it has to stop.
We are in crisis in this country when it comes to mental health. No one is feeling it more than our children. Addiction, depression, anxiety and suicide are topics we should be discussing openly and without prejudice. People who suffer from mental health issues are feeling pain just like the pain felt by those suffering from heart disease or cancer. Many times, those people who commit suicide are simply trying to end their pain because they feel there is no other option for ending their pain.
In the Jefferson City School District, we are trying to find solutions for our students. School districts across our country are struggling to find solutions too. Mental health is not segregated by any gender, race or socio-economic status. Many of our students are suffering in silence. Regardless of their story — minor trauma, significant trauma, addiction, depression or anxiety — they are in pain and it's hard to learn math and reading when you are just trying to live through the day. Resources are scarce. We are lacking professionals in this area. They have been overworked and underpaid for so long, people stopped choosing mental health professions. Now, we have a huge demand for mental health professionals and very little supply. I would love to see us staff every school building with a mental health professional so our children could seek assistance from a mental health professional instead of a teacher. Our teachers are doing the best they can to juggle this role with the many other roles they play, but, frankly, they are not sufficiently equipped to handle this role.
As a society, we can help ease the pressure when it comes to mental health if we will talk among ourselves and to our children about mental health issues. Let's talk about how it is OK to reach out for help. In some cases, it is challenging to find the help but, there are resources in our community and online. There are online platforms where your child can speak to a mental health professional, if you can't see one in person within our community. Many times, children (and adults for that matter) just need the proper tools in their toolbox to help manage their struggles. This is no different than someone with heart disease managing their illness with proper diet and exercise. Some illnesses can be managed with life adjustments, some need daily medication, but they can be managed with the proper guidance and tools. Some illnesses simply can't be cured, but if we don't acknowledge it, we can't try to formulate solutions. We need to let our children know it is possible to lead happy and productive lives with the proper tools. The key is finding the proper tools for each person because we all need different tools. We can't continue to be silent about this subject or we will continue to lose our young people.
Lorelei Schwartz is the president of the Jefferson City Board of Education. Her perspective is published monthly on the editorial page of the News Tribune.