After suicide attempt, local teen shines light on youth mental health

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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- October is mental health awareness month and one local teen hopes to shed light on the topic of youth mental health by sharing her experience.

State data from the Department of Public Instruction shows suicide is the second most common cause of death after car crashes for Wisconsin youth.

17 year-old Arlene Vance says she experienced thoughts of hopeless before the age of 12. As her mental health struggles continued, one day, the situation reached a peak. "I ended up in the Crisis Care Unit at Sacred Heart Hospital," she said.

Arlene says she attempted suicide as a sixth grade student. "I decided to take a bunch of stuff that I shouldn't have been taking which led to my parents calling poison control." She says it was an attempt to end the feelings of hopelessness.

Arlene is now a client at HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital’s Behavioral Health Unit. After years of therapy and learning helpful techniques Arlene says she’s learned to cope. Behavioral health experts say mental health is a challenge that commonly impacts local youth.

Mental health is in all ages, as you develop from children to adolescents, to teens, to adults. You go through different stages," said Hayley Willetts, Behavioral Health Nurse at Sacred Heart.

Willetts says when it comes to understanding youth mental health there are two key factors at play. "Typically there's some form of trauma when it comes to mental health with children and adolescents and then there's a genetic piece," said Willetts. She adds that often times, children of families with a history of mental health issues experience them too.

Willets says one of the best ways to address this is continuing to grow resources, including shining a light on mental health in schools. "Going out into the community, school based mental health counseling, our counseling services are growing to meet the need," she said.

Funding often factors into increasing resources like counselors and therapists with advanced training directly in schools. "Our therapists go there mainly to see patients who are identified through the school system but they're not there full time but it definitely would be a good opportunity for schools to really think about that to better serve these adolescents," said Willetts.

Arlene agrees. She says increasing mental health resources in schools could keep kids from going through what she went through. "What we're taught in school is such a small, small portion of it and they're just the most drastic side effects and examples of it when there's so much more that goes into it," she said.

Arlene hopes to break the stigma. "If we don't make mental health less taboo, than it’s always going to be uncomfortable to talk about," she said.

Arlene has now become an advocate for youth mental health and hopes to continue raising awareness. HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital’s foundation is also raising awareness with its Hope Gala. The gala is a fundraiser for in-school youth therapists. The event is scheduled to take place on October 13, 2018 at Regis High School in Eau Claire.