Suicide prevention is not a pleasant topic for discussion, yet it is an important one. The month of September marks National Suicide Prevention Week. The initiative, held annually since 1975, is a campaign to inform and engage both the public and healthcare professionals on warning signs that can often lead to suicide.
Accordingly, the campaign strives to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness and encourages opportunities to provide support for those who have attempted suicide.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), one in five adults in the United States lives with a mental illness (57.8 million in 2021), with depression being the most common. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) states that in 2021, suicide was the 11th leading cause of death in the United States. Sadly, an estimated one million people per year die by suicide, equating to about one in 10,000 individuals, or “a death every 40 seconds representing around 3,000 every day,” according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
This specific data is focused on mental illness and suicide statistics among adults. Though sadly, adolescents and young adults also face depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorders, with suicide as the second-leading cause of death among individuals ages 15 to 24, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
The Mental Health Foundation states that 20 percent of adolescents may experience a mental health complication in any given year, while 50 percent of mental health difficulties are established by age 14, with 75 percent by age 24. Comparably, WHO, states one in six children ages 10-19 are currently living with a mental health condition.
Given this data, it has never been more important to address the rising number of mental health issues children and young adults face today. With their ever-changing hormones, chemical imbalances, and genetics, not to mention peer pressure, social media, and bullying, on top of an increasingly complex, confusing, and divisive world, it is no surprise mental health problems are on the rise amongst our younger population.
It is essential to understand mental health is not solely about the mind. Research shows there is a profound connection between the mind and body. So, reducing the negative in their ever-changing, ever-growing, bodies can help enhance mental health.
A critical factor for good mental health is to consistently maintain a healthy physical body for physical and mental growth. This means eating a balanced diet and making sure proper sleep is attained, (school-aged kids 9-12 hours, and teenagers 8 to 10 hours), while keeping them physically active, with minimal screen time. It is so important to remember sedentary lifestyles can heavily contribute to poor mental health.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), regular physical activity is simply, “good for the brain.” Physical activity helps one think more clearly, learn, problem-solve, improve memory, and reduce anxiety and/or depression. Regular physical activity can also help adolescents and young adults better attain those needed sleep hours.
In terms of nutrients, studies have shown diets high in processed foods, sugar, and unhealthy fats are linked to depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders. Similarly, a lack of nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, and magnesium, can also increase the risk of developing adverse mental health conditions. Healthy food choices should include:
– Calcium, to build strong teeth and bones.
– Vitamin D, for healthy bones.
– Fiber, to stay regular.
– Iron and protein to support growth and development.
– Limit salt intake
– Avoid drinks high in sugar, including fruit juice; water is always the best option.
– Bake or broil foods instead of frying.
– Eat fruits/vegetables.
– Eat chicken and fish. Limit red meat.
As parents and caregivers, it is important to model healthy habits to encourage children and young adults to make choices that support their mental and physical health. Since September hosts Suicide Prevention Awareness week, let us take time to talk to our children about how they feel and what they are thinking. It is important to keep communication lines open to create a safe and supportive space to express their emotions. Mental health is a vital part of overall well-being, so let us use this time to focus on creating a more mentally healthy world.