ROCKFORD (WREX) — The pandemic continues to isolate people and after more than two years young people are trying to navigate their next move in this new world.
Local experts say a lot of young adults are fighting mental health battles with some ending their lives by suicide. Families, loved ones and friends are left dealing with the grief that comes in the aftermath of suicide. According to Stepping Stones of Rockford, those seeking help are finding themselves at the bottom of a long waitlist.
Mental illness does not discriminate.
“Isolation is like a punch in the face,” said National Alliance on Mental Illness in Northern Illinois (NAMI) Executive Director Danielle Angileri.
“Several college athletes who have taken their own lives, the pressures. I think it’s hard when people look okay on the outside and the stigma of mental illness; that people believe that it’s not okay to not be okay,” explained Stepping Stones of Rockford CEO Due Schroeder.
“We all have feelings. We all have sadness. We all have happy days,” said Colleen McClory of Belvidere who receives counseling services from Stepping Stones of Rockford. “Just because we have these feelings doesn’t mean we are off the rails. It means that we are dealing with something.”
Angileri says despite a variety of local resources, barriers are preventing people who may not know how to process their feelings and emotions from getting help.
“They are not as accessible as you would like to think. It does come down to, a lot of the times, financial stability,” said Angileri.
“If I wanted to go to a counselor with my employer health insurance, I could probably choose 50 or 60 different counselors to go to. But if you have Medicaid or managed care, you typically get a choice of one or two,” said Schroeder .
With the half cent sales tax, the Winnebago County Community Mental Health Board allocated $14.6 million towards mental health and substance abuse programs for 2022-2033.
Schroeder says making a difference won’t happen overnight.
“Mental health/behavioral health was ignored in our community for so long, underfunded in our community for so long that it’s going to take a long time to catch up,” said Schroeder.
“I am in a number of self-help groups. I have to be because, for me, I know that I need that,” McClory said.
McClory lives in Belvidere but seeks out resources from neighboring communities. She wants illnesses like depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation to be normalized.
“I am bipolar,” McClory said as she opened up about her struggles. “I have dealt with a lot of backlash from friends that I have lost because they don’t understand what I am going through.”
“Fifty percent of mental illness shows itself, shows its symptoms, by 14-years-old then 75% by 24. When I think of college age kids, there are so many changes happening, so many pressers. Like for athletes that are taught Serious competition only and maybe not taught how to cope with stress any other way,” said Angileri when explaining why an increased amount of youth are dealing with mental health struggles.
Northern Illinois University Counseling Department Chair Dr. Suzanne Degges-White also explained reasons as to why the amount of college students seeking help is greater than the staff can manage. “The pressure of student loans, the pressure of parental expectations. Here at NIU, we have a lot of first generation students and we are proud they are here and continue on to graduation but they feel as though they are carrying the banner for the family .”
While social media can be a tool to check in with friends and loved ones, Dr. Degges-White says it can also result in users comparing themselves to others.
“It’s been tragically damaging to folks self-esteem, their mood. Research shows the more time we spend on social media, the more we can fall into depression,” said Dr. Degges-White.
“Everyone can see your successes and failures right away, split instantly online and I think that’s scary for people,” said Angileri.
But there’s hope to be found in dark places.
“Looking for ways to grow from our negative experiences, it really does change our perspective in life and as we change our perspective, we are really able to heal ourselves,” said Dr. Degges-White.
When asked what more can be done, Angileri says funding prevention efforts so more people can learn the signs to mental health struggles and what things bring them happiness.
Dr. Degges-White says if people bottle up negative experiences and feelings, it could lead to heart disease and respiratory issues. She says it’s best to work towards accepting trauma and finding ways to learn from them.