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Stigma threatens health and well-being of Decatur's youth

We are facing a mental health crisis among our youth.  Nationally, 17% of youth at any given time experience a mental health issue, and 50% of all lifetime mental health issues begin before age 14.  One of the greatest barriers to youth receiving treatment is access to care, and a significant barrier to access to care is stigma.  Sadly, in our city, many entities are stigmatizing those needing and receiving mental health and substance use services and using baseless inuendo to suggest that the places where our youth receive care are unsafe.  Stigmatization and inuendo create barriers to those who need help from getting services, and ultimately, threatens the well-being and safety of our youth most in need.

I am in my 19th year as an educator in Decatur.  I have never had more students experiencing mental health crises than I have had in the past two years.  I have had more students needing “mental health days” the past two years than the previous seventeen.  I am thankful to work at an institution where students have access to care instead of a place that erects barriers.  I am proud to work for an entity where staff and students rally to help their friends instead of stigmatizing them for experiencing mental health and substance use issues. 

I thank the many organizations and individuals who work tirelessly to promote access to care and end stigma.  Without a doubt, you have saved young peoples’ lives.  Almost everyone has a family member, friend, or neighbor that has or is currently suffering from mental illness or substance use.  If the readers of this post are representative of the national trend, one in four readers are currently living with a mental health issue.  The people suffering look like us, because they are us.  It touches nearly everyone. 


To the citizens of Decatur, getting help may save your life.  Places that offer services for mental health and substance use issues are safe places that are here to help you not harm you.  Care is available in Decatur at all times.  If you are in crisis, please call the suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline (dial 988).  The service is free, confidential, and always available. 

As Thanksgiving approaches, I am thankful for the individuals and organizations who are helping our youth overcome their mental health and substance use challenges.  I am thankful for the schools and colleges who have partnered with organizations to provide services to youth in a stigma-free environment.  I am thankful that youth are currently receiving those services in safe and comfortable places.  In 2024, may Decatur have more individuals and organizations providing leadership and becoming partners in fixing our social problems instead of perpetuating stigma that harms individuals and divides the community.  The safety and well-being of our youth, and the future of our community, depends on it.

Horn for Decatur
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