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April 10, 2014

STANCZYKIEWICZ: Mental health and suicide

Terre Haute native Tommy John posted 288 victories as a Major League Baseball pitcher, but one opponent was too strong to overcome. His son’s mental illness, which remains a prevalent challenge for Indiana youth.

Taylor John, whose theater credits included appearing on Broadway as Gavroche in “Les Miserables,” ended his life four years ago by overdosing on prescription drugs. He was 28 years old.

“He was a very talented, outgoing, funny young man [who would] laugh and sing,” Tommy John recalled. “He had the most beautiful voice. Perfect pitch.”

And Taylor also had mental illness. His dad described him as “obsessive compulsive,” and “then he was diagnosed as being bipolar, manic depressive. He was diagnosed when he was in his 20s. When he was younger, we had no idea.”

The lack of diagnosis and treatment earlier in Taylor’s life is all too common in Indiana. Nearly 20 percent of Hoosier youth have mental health needs. However, half of those children between the ages of 0-5, and one-third of those youth between the ages of 12-17, do not receive professional care for their mental health challenges.

Government leaders have noticed. The State Commission on Improving the Status of Children, which includes the leaders of several state agencies, a Supreme Court justice and members of the General Assembly, listed undiagnosed and untreated mental illness as top concerns among Hoosier children and youth.

Young people with mental illness are more likely to engage in risky behaviors and struggle with school or work. While feelings of sadness are normal, persistent sadness – lasting two weeks or more – can be a sign of depression which, if left untreated, may lead to suicidal thoughts or behavior.

Indiana has the nation’s highest rate of students who have contemplated suicide (19 percent) and the country’s second highest rate of high school students who have attempted suicide (11 percent). Suicide is the second leading cause of death among Hoosiers between the ages of 15-24.

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