Investing in mental health benefits all

May 26, 2023

As Mental Health Awareness Month draws to a close, it is crucial we reflect upon the significance of removing the stigma associated with mental illness and continue to press for improved access to mental health care in Sussex County and in Delaware. 

Individuals struggling with mental health deserve our attention, compassion, commitment and care. Countless individuals suffer alone due to misconceptions about mental health. Those misconceptions are sometimes as big of a barrier as a lack of finances and access to care.

Mental illness affects individuals from all walks of life, regardless of age, gender or background. According to the Division of Public Health’s My Healthy Community Website, 18.4% of Sussex County adults experienced depression between 2012 and 2021. The trend shows the percentage of adults struggling in Sussex has increased 24% since 2019. 

Results from the 2021 Youth Risk Behavior Study show that Delaware middle school students are increasingly struggling with their mental health; girls, in particular, are most at risk for suicide. The study showed  19.2% of Delaware middle school students thought about killing themselves. The majority were eighth-grade females and 14.5% had actually developed a plan. Hispanic and Black girls were most at risk, with white girls not far behind. 

The growing number of individuals reporting depression and suicidal thoughts demands our community’s immediate attention and help. 

Regrettably, the biggest obstacle to getting help is often stigma. As a community, we need to dismantle stereotypes that prevent people from seeking treatment. Mental health and physical health are often linked and should be viewed as one and the same. 

It’s important for all of us to create safe spaces where individuals feel comfortable sharing what they are experiencing so they can obtain treatment and support. By talking openly about mental health, we can dispel misconceptions and promote understanding which can lead people to seek treatment.  

Understanding is not enough; we also need to promote access to care. Sussex County has significant challenges in providing adequate mental health services. 

According to the University of Delaware’s 2019 Mental Health Professionals in Delaware report, the ratio for full-time mental health specialists in Sussex is 1 per 1,433 people. Statewide the ratio is 1 per 1,278. The number of providers who can speak Spanish statewide is even less.

According to the report, 47% of psychiatrists and 14% of mental health specialists had someone in their office who was able to speak a language other than English. In Sussex County, no psychiatrists and just 14% of mental health specialists reported speaking a language other than English. 

Limited resources, long waiting lists and a shortage of mental health professionals create barriers that prevent individuals from receiving timely and appropriate care.

We need to do better. To overcome these obstacles, it is crucial we advocate for increased funding and support for mental health programs. Collaboration among government agencies, healthcare providers and community organizations can lead to the development of comprehensive mental health services that cater to the diverse needs of our population.

Investing in mental health is an investment in the overall health of our community. Mental illness not only affects individuals directly, but also has a ripple effect on families, workplaces and the community. 

The end of Mental Health Awareness Month should not be the end of the conversation surrounding mental health. It should be just the beginning. 

Brian Olson
CEO, La Red Health Center 


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