Take a stand for mental health

Erase the stigma of mental health issues.

Commentary from C. Joseph Ziler

Robin Williams, Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain…celebrity suicides make the news and stay there a long time. However, those personal to me are names that hit home, such as Mike Ziler, my brother who took his own life five years ago, and Seth Sutherland, who took his life last year in Minneola. Mental health crosses all socioeconomic, ethnic, geographic, religious, and gender boundaries and doesn’t discriminate.  

Both local and high-profile suicides show a deep stigma associated with mental health similar to that of AIDS in past. Not speaking out nearly guarantees we will suffer another tragic loss through youth suicide this school year.

I am not an expert on mental health. However, I know about the aftermath of its effect on parents, siblings, children, and friends left behind with so many unanswered questions. 

Most say the solution begins with funding at the federal, state, and local levels: more resource officers in schools, more mental health facilities, programs, and awareness to create a wide net to “catch” and support those in need, a danger to themselves, or, most critically, a danger to others. What all of those resources have in common is lack of funding, and the shortfall is TENS OF MILLIONS. 

We can’t change how mental health is handled across the country, but we can change our community. Our approach to mental health must be done in a cohesive way that says, “One Voice and One Unified Message.” That requires organizations such as LifeStream Behavioral Center, Lake County Schools, and the Lake County Sheriff’s Office taking the lead and working together. 

I am personally challenging our mental health community stakeholders to take action, by forming a task force, a group determined to create a cohesive plan and message and blanket our youth with it. Additionally, make this group the hub of all interested groups and individuals passionate about changing the conversation, providing education, and assisting youth. 

The issue is not whether we have a mental health problem in Lake County. It is recognizing its magnitude and taking tangible, quantifiable steps to do something. Lift the veil of stigma and open the floodgates of services and support. Be the community others visit to learn how we make a difference, inspire each other, and provide love and support to youth and adults in need. My hand is firmly in the air to help drive this effort.

We are in a crisis, whether we admit it or not, and the best investment in our future is—and always will be—our youth.


About the writer: C. Joseph Ziler is president of Kevco Builders Inc. in Eustis.