Local board looking to improve mental health access for teens


ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — When people think of mental health issues, many associated that with just adults. However, experts say that’s not the case.

Over the last decade, the number of kids and teens struggling with mental health issues has grown. One local mom is begging other parents not to ignore the signs.

“When you lose someone to suicide, especially as a mom, guilt just consumes you and it sets in,” explained Laura Rodriguez.

Zachary was a Harlem High School freshman the year he took his life.

“He was the happiest kid. Always smiling, always laughing, he was always the one that would come in and say I love you, mom, at night,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez wants parents to pay close attention to their child.

“In the last month that he was alive he was basically in a self-destructive pattern, and we’ve always been really open to communicating and talking about things, but it wasn’t until two weeks before his death I found out that he was having issues,” she said.

According to the Winnebago County Public Health board, over the last decade and a half youth mental health has been on a downward slide.

“Particularly since the 2007 mark, and that’s been demonstrated to be somewhat of an interesting milestone because it’s right around the explosion of social media,” said Jason Holcomb, a community health coordinator.

“A lot of kids in today’s generation, social media they do normalize that. To them, it’s normal to see somebody’s hurting and they just shrug it off as like oh they’re going to be fine,” Rodriguez explained.

The board is working to improve youth mental health services in the country. From funding to access, it’s identified five areas that need improvement.

“Engagement and educating the community about children’s mental health was also noted as a key area for improvement. Particularly around engaging parents and families in trying to improve mental health literacy,” Holcomb said.

From Rodriguez’s personal experiences, so does she.

“What I’ve learned throughout this process is the importance of being open, and talking about whatever issues are happening,” she added. “Try to help them see tomorrow, so they don’t have to focus on the ‘today.'”


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