No vaccine for chronic mental illness

The young people our nation is relying on to take the reins of our future economy are at an alarming crossroads. Research shows the emotional and mental impact of the pandemic goes far beyond the “blues” for many of our teens and young adults.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released survey data showing more than one in four young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 had seriously considered suicide in the past 30 days. An alarming 62.9% also reported the highest levels of anxiety and depression.

It’s clear that we must do as much to address this threat to our young people — and our future — as we have done to address the physical threat of COVID-19.

Before COVID, one in five young people struggled with a serious mental health issue. Nine months later, a survey conducted in September by Mental Health America found 51% of 11- to 17-year-olds said they had thoughts of suicide or self-harm for more than half of the previous two-week period — with some experiencing suicidal thoughts nearly every day.

Many people aren’t aware suicide is the No. 2 cause of death among young people. When you consider mental health is also behind a growing number of drug overdoses, crime, school dropouts and other dark statistics, the size of this threat becomes more clear.

COVID is a crisis. But, mental health is an even bigger and more difficult problem. You see, there is no vaccine for mental illness.

When the opioid crisis hit the headlines, Congress threw some money at it. Much of the funding was focused on treating the end result, rather than attacking the root causes of addiction. Mental health is one of them.

If a foreign country was found to be attacking our youth, we’d respond as only this nation can. It’s time for a coordinated effort by our top leaders to address this crisis.

We can all help kids and teens find new ways to recharge. At Ben’s Ranch Foundation, we’ve demonstrated that simply getting young people outside (a COVID-consistent strategy) and turning their attention to nature, animals and physical activity can make a world of difference. Sunshine and fresh air, even on colder days, are vital to mental health.

Indiana has launched some resources this year to try to help those struggling. includes information on crisis counseling, self-monitoring for signs of stress, domestic violence resources, and substance use disorder indicators and options for recovery. Some local governments and school districts have also taken on the issue.

If you or a loved one are experiencing feelings of hopelessness or thoughts of self-harm, I urge you to reach out immediately to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Young people are our future, so we must turn “Hoosier Hospitality” inward and take care of them — both physically AND mentally.

Brose McVey is an Indianapolis businessman and the founder of the Central Indiana-based Ben’s Ranch Foundation. The not-for-profit organization operates and supports programs designed to connect teens with mental health challenges to jobs on farms, stables and equine therapy facilities. Send comments to [email protected].