Ethan Sergey Neubauer – known as Sergei – had a family who would do anything for him. His parents, Mary Neubauer and Larry Loss, brought him home from Russia on Christmas Day 2009 to be their son. He was a varsity wrestler who loved to cook, play with his dogs, and make his niece smile. He was also in pain.
Sergei was living with depression and anxiety at the same time he was fighting to overcome the effects of his childhood traumas in Russia. His parents had resources. They tried to get him the help he needed. But it wasn't enough. On Sept. 25, 2017, Sergei Neubauer lost his life to suicide. He was 18 years old.
In his obituary, his mother pleaded with lawmakers and policymakers across the nation to recognize the toll that mental illness is taking on our society, particularly on our youth. She called it a "crisis facing America, one that must be acknowledged, better understood, and ultimately addressed for people to have the tools to heal."
Sergei's story is not an isolated incident. One in five young people in America has a diagnosable mental health problem, but only 20 percent receive treatment. Youth are at increased risk for anxiety and depression, and suicide rates have risen dramatically, especially among adolescent girls. We can't sit idly by. We owe it to our children and the generations to come to join forces and put a face on mental illness to ensure that all young people grow up to be strong, healthy, and whole.
It doesn't matter whether you are a teacher, police officer, judge, veteran or even Lady Gaga. You have a role to play. We have a role to play. It will take all of us – together – to reach out to people with mental health and substance use challenges and strengthen their bonds with their communities.
Anyone can #BetheDifference for someone who is living with mental health and substance use problems if you know what to look for and how to engage people in open conversation. Those skills are taught in Mental Health First Aid, and that is why Lady Gaga's Born This Way Foundation and the National Council for Behavioral Health recently provided these trainings along every U.S. stop of Lady Gaga's Joanne World Tour, training an additional 150,000 people.
The North American portion of the tour may be over, but the need to spread kindness and mental health awareness is not. You can still join with your friends, neighbors, and coworkers to receive training in Mental Health First Aid. The eight-hour program teaches people how to connect with those who may be experiencing mental health and substance use problems. Above all, Mental Health First Aid helps restore a sense of community and the connections that bind us by generating the understanding that mental health is essential for health. The program is offered around the country and includes special courses for youth, teachers, foster families, employers, military members and veterans, older adults, and public safety officers.
When we join together, we can create a positive force of change for the one in five young people living with a mental health condition in the U.S. – for people like Sergei. By empowering people to channel kindness and help one another through Mental Health First Aid, we are changing the world one person at a time. How will you change the world?
Linda Rosenberg is president and CEO, National Council for Behavioral Health. Cynthia Germanotta is president and co-founder, Born This Way Foundation.