Hello Friend

Tackling Mental Illness

Hi, this is Avik Garg, the founder of Hello Friend MN. In the future, I hope that this blog can become a place for members of the community to share their experience with mental health. But for today, I feel that it’s important by talking about what the organization will try to do. I think this is important because mental health is a large, complex issue and tackling mental health is thus a daunting task. Below, I try to break the problem down into tractable parts that hopefully can be addressed over the next few years. Obviously, this is not set it stone, but it does provide a starting point that should help you (and me!) to understand what exactly the plan is.

Hello Friend MN has a very simple mission: helping teens struggling with mental illness. Unfortunately, this is not an easy issue to solve and despite the efforts of many motivated people, nonprofits, schools, workplaces, and politicians, there are still a decent number of holes and people who fall through the cracks. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death among 15-24 year olds, and that only understates the one in ten 9-17 year olds who have a diagnosable mental illness that significantly impairs their life. For me, the problem struck very close to home when a kid in my grade committed suicide. Thus, the goal of this organization is to focus on some on these smaller gaps on a local level to make whatever progress it can. There are a couple main areas of focus.

First, not enough teens reach out to receive mental health care. One study found that nearly half of the 7.7 million children with mental illness do no get treated. During COVID, this number got worse, which, according to Dr. Aditi Garg in an interview she conducted with us, was likely because teachers and counselors didn’t have the same sort of access to kids and parents didn’t have the same reliable indicators like grades. This problem is not inevitable. The same study that gave the 50% number found large variations across states: while Minnesota leaves about half untreated, the D.C. area only treated about 25% of those with mental illness, and North Carolina leaves only a quarter. Further, it’s also acknowledged that at the college level, kids are far more proactive about seeking their own treatment. This gives us two different places to draw inspiration from to solve the problem.

The main solution to this problem will have to be education. The reason college kids seek mental healthcare more easily is because they have a better understanding of the issue but also because they feel less stigma attached to it. In the interview, Dr. Garg mentioned that a couple concerns parents and students have are bad cultural perspectives of mental healthcare and worries about how it could affect future prospects. These are often misfounded but prevalent nonetheless, and education is needed to address the problem. All of this is bared out in high schools as well. Kids who have a health class are far more likely to seek out counselors. Thus, a big thing Hello Friend will try to do is ensure health classes that talk about mental health are in all schools and that these classes are effective in their teachings.

The other way that to address the problem is by making people more comfortable discussing mental health. Anyone reading this can contribute to the issue by simply bringing the topic up more in conversation with friends. Every little bit helps! Hello Friend hopes to add to this effort by creating events and meetings aimed at recognizing mental illness. One thing we feel is important is that these events should not be ran or promoted as discussion sessions. That scares away many people who would benefit. Rather, framing meetings as stress relief and having fun activities is more likely to be successful in attracting a larger audience.

The second problem is simply lack of resources. Even if kids seek care, if the care doesn’t exist in an affordable manner, it doesn’t matter. This is also a big contributor to the gap between states. Different states and even different counties within states all have different levels of mental health resources. Luckily my school, Eden Prairie High School, is pretty well situated in terms of resources. For mild issues, school counselors are available for biweekly meetings and for serious issues, students have a couple of affordable options. They can either access care through a nonprofit for free or if families prefer, there’s a clinic with an office inside the school that recognizes various types of health insurance and does offer financial aid when necessary. This level of resources is not ubiquitous and expanding resources is a key part of treating mental illness.

Here, the major place where Hello Friend MN can pitch in is legislative advocacy. The problem with expanding access is that it’s hard to know exactly what resources each school has. Standardizing care across the metro will require determining what resources are available and figuring out how to patch any gaps that become apparent. There are already some nonprofits like NAMI Minnesota that have done some of this work and Hello Friend hopes to be able to join in on this effort.

Overall, when mental health is broken down into the issue of getting kids to seek treatment and having treatment ready for those that seek it, the problem becomes more tractable. Obviously, the goals set out above are ambitious and will take time, but I hope that over the next few years, Hello Friend MN can grow into an organization that can tackle all of them. Please, if you’re interested, check out our website to see how you can get involved.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.