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Summer 2013, Volume 21, Number 3

Secretary Kathleen Sebelius with Demi Lovato

Secretary Kathleen Sebelius with Demi Lovato

Raising Awareness of Children's Mental Health

During what she calls her "dark period," Demi Lovato received a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. She had anorexia and bulimia. She was also hurting herself. With the right kind of help, Ms. Lovato was able to continue her career as a successful singer, song-writer, and actress—and she has become an advocate for young people who share her history of mental health challenges.

On May 7, 2013, at a press briefing held as part of SAMHSA's National Children's Mental Health Awareness Day activities, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius presented Ms. Lovato with a special recognition award for sharing her story about recovery and breaking the silence that prevents many from reaching out for support during challenging times.

"Every young person faces challenges as they work toward becoming an independent adult, and for those with mental health challenges, it can be even more of a struggle," said Ms. Lovato. "I want those young adults to know that your life has meaning and you can reach out to someone you trust for support and overcome any challenges in your life."

The press briefing was organized to raise awareness about mental health issues for young adults and, in addition to honoring Ms. Lovato, SAMHSA released a Short Report. Other speakers from other federal agencies, along with a young adult with lived experience, also spoke about the risks, challenges, and opportunity to recover when support is in place.

SAMHSA's Children's Mental Health Awareness activities also included more than 1,100 communities and more than 135 public and private organizations sponsored events to raise awareness about the importance of children's mental health and the role of positive mental health in children's healthy development from birth. For the first time, a virtual event was produced that included videos of young adults from across the country telling their stories of resilience as well as content and data addressing healthcare, employment, education, and housing for young adults with mental health challenges. During the launch of the virtual event, there was a Tweetup offering participants an opportunity to comment on and share the ideas discussed in the videos that reached an estimated 27,216,384 people!

This year's theme focused on young adults transitioning into adulthood; a time when young people may face challenging changes in their health benefits and support.

2013 Short Report on Children's Mental Health

SAMHSA's 2013 Short Report, "SAMHSA: Promoting Recovery and Independence for Older Adolescents and Young Adults Who Experience Serious Mental Health Challenges (949 KB, PDF)," reveals the challenges some of the nation's young adults face.

Almost 20 percent of 18- to 25-year-olds had a mental health condition in the past year, and of these more than 1.3 million had a substance use disorder so serious that their ability to function was compromised. Compared with their peers, these young people are more likely to experience homelessness, be arrested, drop out of school, and be unemployed. Unfortunately, these young adults are significantly less likely than other adults to receive mental health services.

When young people do receive the services they need, however, the results can be impressive.

SAMHSA's Children's Mental Health Initiative is just one example. Aimed at improving mental health outcomes from birth to age 21, the initiative funds grantees to put system of care principles into practice by helping adolescents and young adults obtain services and supports, build partnerships with their families and communities, and using evidence-based practices to improve functioning at home, in the classroom, and in other areas of life.

As indicated in the Short Report, the system of care approach works. Thirty-eight percent of participants showed significant improvements in their behavioral and emotional health within the first year. Homelessness among participants age 18 and older dropped by 36 percent. Plus, participants reported greater confidence in their ability to perform such important tasks as preparing meals and securing rental agreements.

Data from other SAMHSA programs for young people, such as the Emerging Adults Initiative, Pregnant and Postpartum Women Program, and almost a dozen programs focused on substance use issues, are equally encouraging.

For SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde, J.D., Ms. Lovato's willingness to speak out about her experiences is one type of support for young people with behavioral health challenges. "This type of support, coupled with effective community-based programs can help youth and young adults overcome their challenges and go on to live healthy, fulfilled lives," she said.

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