In part 3 of our series "NJ Children Confronting Mental Illness," we meet a New Jersey woman whose son was diagnosed with mental illness at age 15, and then took his own life four years later.

Attitudes In Reverse Facebook
Attitudes In Reverse Facebook

We know that mental illness is on the rise with our kids, but what happens if it goes untreated?

Tricia Baker, Co-Founder of Attitudes in Reverse, a grass-roots organization that goes into schools to educate kids about good mental health and suicide prevention.

"We talk about the stigma associated with it, how people are afraid to seek treatment because of that fear of embarrassment, of ridicule," says Baker. "And we also discuss how we lost our son to suicide, so we'll share Kenny's story, we share how Kenny was an athlete, Kenny was a math honor student."

She says, so far, they've spoken with more than 11,000 students in New Jersey and New York.

"In the first half of our presentation we address mental health," she says. "We talk about statistics, we talk about how one in four in this country are affected, but less than 40 percent actually seek treatment, and we talk about the signs and the symptoms of what suicide looks like because people will always reach out before they do it."

Baker says her son was a successful young man, "so that's what we want to get across to kids, so they know that just because they're smart it doesn't mean that they don't have a mental health issue."

She adds at the end of the presentation, kids are given green and white wrist bands.

"Green symbolizes children's mental illness, white represents hope, that one day stigma will be gone - inside the wrist bands, the national crisis hotline number, so they always have that number right at hand."

Tricia Baker, Co-Founder of Attitudes in Reverse (Photo by David Matthau, Townsquare Media)
Tricia Baker, Co-Founder of Attitudes in Reverse (Photo by David Matthau, Townsquare Media)

"We ask kids to wear the wrist band without judgment, without criticism, and that they are approachable," Baker said, "that if someone is struggling they can come to them, and they can ask for help, and they will find them a trusted adult to get them help."

Her message to parents is simple.

"Be open to the fact that their child might have a mental illness," she says, " because you want to deny it - you have to accept it in order to deal with it, to help them get better. And after a presentation I've had several young people reach out to me and say, 'you know, I've done my research, I'm classic bipolar and I've spoken to my parents and they say it's just a phase, you'll get over it.'"

"Get your child diagnosed, and if there's something there, start treatment, which doesn't necessarily mean medication. But if you ignore it, it's only going to get worse."


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