ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Four million young people in this country suffer from a serious mental disorder that causes significant functional impairments at home, at school and with peers, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Half of all lifetime cases of mental disorders begin by age 14, and suicide remains the third-leading cause of death among young people ages 15-24, the department says.
No less than 40 percent of kids being held at the Bernalillo Juvenile Detention Center are on some type of medication, half of them on anti-psychotic drugs, said facility director Craig Sparks.
Largely because of the stigma associated with mental illnesses, young people who have received such a diagnosis have not been eager to talk about it or share their stories.
However, a short documentary produced by some of these young people as part of a Generation Justice project is helping to change that by opening a dialogue and contributing to the national discussion.
The 17-minute film, “When the Mask Comes Off: A Youth Perspective on Mental Illness,” will have a free showing Tuesday at the Wool Warehouse, 516 First NW, starting at 4 p.m. Following the film, a study guide will be passed out to attendees, who may then participate in group discussions focusing on mental-health issues.
The film is being presented in conjunction with National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week, which is May 4-10, said Roberta Rael, executive director for Generation Justice. The mission of the local organization is to inspire and teach young people how to use different media formats to tell stories that promote social transformation and social justice, she said.
In 2013, President Obama called for communities around the country to start having discussions about how to deal with issues related to mental health, she said. Albuquerque was among the first cities to initiate such a dialogue with a conference held at the National Hispanic Cultural Center. Although some young people attended, the dialogue did not specifically address how mental illness affects young people.
“That’s part of the reason Generation Justice stepped in, because young people didn’t have much of a voice in that conversation.”
Generation Justice held a daylong seminar last fall at the University of New Mexico, attracting a number of young people who themselves had a diagnosed mental illness or had dealt with mental health issues in a family member or friend. Many of them agreed to help produce and appear in the short film.
“What they got out of it is that mental illness doesn’t have to define their value and worth as a human being. They are not their mental illness,” Rael said. “It helped to break their sense of isolation and build a sense of commonality with others who have similar experiences.”
People who watch the film, she said, hopefully walk away with the understanding that young people need to be included as part of the solution for de-stigmatizing mental illness in the our community.