Numbers don’t lie. Mental illness in the United States is a significant medical problem.

According to The National Alliance on Mental Illness:

  • One in four adults experience mental illness in a given year.
  • Almost 20 percent of kids ages 13-18 experience severe mental disorders in a given year.
  • About 14.8 million people in the U.S. are living with major depression.
  • Almost 60 percent of adults and nearly half of kids ages 8-15 with mental illness didn’t receive services in the previous year.

And there’s no easy solution. Today, mental illness remains a stigmatized diagnosis for many. Kay Redfield Jamison, a clinical psychologist and noted author of her own experience with bipolar disorder, “An Unquiet Mind,” says part of the problem remains this: It’s a topic not discussed enough.

“People don’t talk about these illnesses as much as they should,” she says. “It’s just not that easy a thing to grasp.”

FAN Event: Listen to Author Kay Redfield Jamison in person

The Family Action Network is hosting psychologist and author Kay Redfield Jamison Tuesday, Oct. 8 to share a personal and professional perspective on mental illness. The 7 p.m. lecture will be held at New Trier High School’s Cornog Auditorium on the Northfield campus, 7 Happ Rd.


What can parents do to help a child with mental illness?

“Talk with their kids,” Jamison says. “Ask them what’s going on, what they feel.” She also recommends making any family history of illness accessible to everyone—thus improving the chances they’ll seek treatment if they can recognize symptoms.

“Talk about it in a straightforward way to extend hope … and it’s very likely they will be able to get treated for it. People don’t realize how treatable these illnesses are.”

How can schools do a better job of accommodating these issues?

A module on depression included in classroom discussion goes a long way in helping kids recognize symptoms and the need for help. For example, Jamision says, just pointing out, “These are the symptoms, these are the treatments. It’s important to get treated early. Just teach about it in a direct way.”

What can kids do to support one another?

Jamison says the best approach is a direct one. “Again, just be direct, be specific. Ask, ‘What can I do to be helpful?’ The tendency is for kids to get depressed, and hope is the first thing that goes. The more people are aware these are treatable disorders, the more hopeful they can be.”