Frank talk about mental health and substance abuse is not just for adults. A free Suicide Prevention Conference in New Brunswick on Sept. 12 will encourage a proactive approach with youths to help prevent such issues from leading to devastating results.

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Dr. Debra Wentz, chief executive officer of the New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies in Mercerville, said anyone and everyone should be interested in attending the event.

"The prevalence of mental illness and addiction is great," she said. "In fact, you'd really be surprised how widespread it is."

About 25 percent of adults in the United States have mental illnesses, and half of those individuals also have substance use disorders, according to Wentz. She said about 7 percent of Americans have a dependence on alcohol or another drug, but just 1 percent of those people are getting treatment. Only 40 percent of people with mental illnesses receive treatment.

"These illnesses can start very early in life," Wentz said. "So, it's very important to educate young people and youth, and the people who interact with them and deal with them, so that they will know the signs and symptoms to recognize to prevent people from ever -- perhaps, hopefully -- using drugs and alcohol, and if they do have signs of mental illnesses that they can get treatment early."

Treatment is very effective. With depression, said Wentz, there's a very high rate of total recovery, about 80 percent. She said that is a much higher success rate than heart disease, diabetes, or certain other physical illnesses.

"It can save a life, or many lives, if people will just come out," Wentz said of the conference.

NJAMHAA and Attitudes in Reverse are presenting their Second Annual National Suicide Prevention Day Conference, "Back to School: Take a Breath -- and Pack a Good Mental Health Tool Kit," on Sept. 12 from 9:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at the New Jersey Department of Children and Families, New Jersey Child Welfare Training Academy, 30 Van Dyke Avenue, New Brunswick.

For more details and to register for the free event, go to the Conferences section of www.njamhaa.org.