More than 60 million Americans experience some kind of mental illness every year, according to The National Alliance on Mental Illness. And yet, a stigma persists that makes talking about mental illnesses difficult for many people.
Gabriela Gonzalez, 29, suffered from untreated depression for more than a decade. Without therapy or medication, she turned to drugs to deal with the pain and suicidal thoughts. But her addiction to methamphetamine left her homeless and separated from her children.
“I had been diagnosed with clinical depression when I was 15. Growing up, my family and my parents were always like, ‘You’re fine. You just have to control it. Whenever you feel sad just think happy thoughts and you’re going to be ok,’” said Gonzalez.
Organizations like Kickstart in San Diego, California are targeting young people like Gonzalez, focusing on early detection for mental disorders.
“I think the most unique thing is that we focus on the prevention of mental health issues,” said Kickstart Assistant Director, Joseph Edwards. “Whereas many different programs and hospitals and treatment settings focus on the treating the illness after it has already progressed.”
By looking for and treating early symptoms, they can educate at-risk youth on strategies for dealing with serious breakdowns and preventing suicides, which are the third leading cause of death for youths ages 15 to 24.
While Gonzalez did not have access to a program like Kickstart in her youth, she has happily turned her life around after a year at a treatment center. She has an apartment, a job, and is looking forward to being reunited with her kids.
Full Frame contributor Sandra Hughes reported this week on efforts to overcome the stigma of mental health.