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Editorial | Island Voices

The path to mental wellness in Hawaii is ours to protect


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May is Mental Health Month in America. Mental Health America (MHA) of Hawaii wishes there were more to celebrate. For although we have made great gains in what we know about how to help people secure their mental wellness, the resources and the will to use them are rapidly slipping away.

Nationally mental illness affects one in every four families. About 26 percent of our adult population suffers from a diagnosable mental disorder, as does about 20 percent of our children.

In Hawaii we have the highest rate in the country of teenagers attempting suicide. That is why one of MHA Hawaii’s program priorities is to protect against bullying, which is one of the major contributing factors to youth suicide. We also have a high number of military service men and women and their families dealing with myriad issues, which is the reason for our trauma of war program.

The network of public and private resources for mental health is reduced and shredded. Over the last two years, Hawaii ranked 10th in the country in the depth of its state cuts to mental health programs.

The budget squeeze will get much worse in June, when advanced federal Medicaid support for mental health expires and Hawaii loses $90 million a year.

We jeopardize the future of our own families and communities with cuts of this magnitude. This will shift and magnify costs to emergency rooms, hospitals, law enforcement agencies, social services and correctional facilities.

But more than this, families with members in the early stages of mental illness will not get the help they need when they need it most. So much can be done when there is early diagnosis and the right help. And whether it is your child or spouse or parent, no family is ready to manage this alone. Ask any caregiver.

We all tend to focus on mental illness when there is a high-visibility story in the news. But there are personal tragedies that occur every day in Hawaii. Timely and effective behavioral health services can be life-changing and cost society far less in the long run.

This year Mental Health Month calls on us to recognize that the path to mental wellness is ours to protect.

It underscores that all of us face more stress in our lives than ever, given an unsteady economy, overwork and the multiple jobs we hold, the hours we are on the road and away from family, the all-too-often struggle for a good night’s sleep and a growing feeling of disconnection. If you are feeling overwhelmed, you are not alone.

MHA starts from the simple premise that there is no health without mental health. Steps you can take include educating yourself about the issues and helping where you can. Certainly at the governmental level, let your elected officials know that the issue is one you care about. And if there is someone in your life who is struggling with mental illness, take the time to listen to them and be a friend. It is so important.

And, please, call Mental Health America of Hawaii at 521-1846 if you need information or help.

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