Opinion: Mental health should be treated as a public health need
April 27, 2021
By: Chris Kolker
In the winter of 1982, a young red-headed boy went to his parent’s basement. He was in the depths of depression, full of self-loathing, fear, and despair when he accessed his father’s unlocked gun cabinet. After what seemed like an eternity, he put back the weapon in which he sought escape. Later that night, as his mother kissed him good night, he told her what he had done. She was incredulous or seemed so at the moment. Stigma and unavailable resources limited her options to help. However, she made sure the cabinet was locked that night and every night since. She protected her son by keeping him home from school for 30 out of the next 45 days.
This was the beginning of my struggle with depression and the suicide ideation that comes with it. A dark moment in my life. I spent time over the last 39 years finding ways to cope on my own until I finally was able to seek professional help as an adult.
I am one of the lucky ones.
My story is not unique. It is being replayed by both young and old today. My heart broke when I learned that among Colorado’s high school youth, one in seven has seriously considered suicide in the past year.
The CDC reports that 1,312 Coloradans committed suicide in 2019, making our state the 5th highest in the nation per capita. According to Mental Health Colorado, more than one million people in our state experience a mental health or substance use disorder each year. Yet, Colorado has fallen to 48th place nationwide in the past two years when it comes to offering mental health care to our youth.
Our mental health system is inadequate because it ignores the plain fact that mental health is health care. Our thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and attitudes can positively or negatively affect our biological functioning. In other words, our minds can affect how healthy our bodies are and vise versa. What we do with our physical body — what we eat, how much we exercise, even our posture — can impact our mental state, positively or negatively. This results in a complex interrelationship between our minds and bodies that requires a multi-pronged, holistic approach to fully address this issue.