Mental Illness, Depression and Suicide

Hi group members,

I waited for quite a few days until posting this message due to the sensitivity of the topic.  After the passing of the great comedian and actor, Robin Williams, there has been much dialogue on the topic of mental illness and suicide.  Suicide is seldom a topic of honest discussion unless a significant loss of a public figure occurs.

Depression is a potentially life-threatening mood disorder that affects 1 in 6 persons in the United States, or approximately 17.6 million Americans each year. The current economic cost of depressive illness is estimated to be $30-44 billion annually in the United States alone.  It is well documented that depression is the leading cause of suicide. Also, there is a direct connection between mental illness, depression, substance abuse, and suicide.  When you add in other risk factors such as job loss, homelessness, illness, and other family tragedies, the connection is clear. Yet, seeking professional help often has a negative stigma (

Having worked for many years with students that had mental illness, and having lost students to suicide, I know that the feeling of loss is hard to overcome.


My thoughts are that we put more emphasis on our physical health than our mental health.   Most of us have yearly wellness exams, but how many schedule brain wellness exams?

What are your thoughts on this topic?

Have you had a student that was experiencing symptoms of mental illness/depression?  What options did you have to address the problem?

Please share your thoughts on this important topic.


Rochelle Kenyon, SME




Hello Rochelle,

Thank you so much for this post.  This is such valuable information, especially considering that in corrections classrooms we have disproportionate representations of students with all of the factors you cite: depression, mental illness and substance abuse/addiction.  Additionally, with the closures of so many mental health facilities in recent decades, whether due to lack of financial support or some other factor, correctional facilities have become defacto mental health facilities (  It's been only in recent months (years in some progressive cases) that secure facilities are better addressing the mental health needs of their incarcerated individuals.  

I agree with you that our society places more emphasis on physical health than on mental health, and would add that society seems also to sympathize more with physical illness than mental illness.  Robin Williams' death has given us a good opportunity to talk openly about these issues. I too would like to hear about others' experiences within corrections classrooms.

-- Heather

Hi Rochelle and Heather:  I too am so glad that you posted the info on depression and suicide Rochelle. Since the ealry 90s much effort has been put forth to identify and provide support for students in post secondary ed who havementla health issues including suicidal ideation  with a renewed commitment over the past decade. In my private work I spend a goos deal of time at colleges around the country assisting with policy and practice around serving students with mental illness...a large number with depression. Of late I am finding myself consulting after a suicied has occurred on campus to help all those affected by it [students faculty and staff] recover and administration to take a new look at the policies and practices around supporting students who exhibit signs of depression ,who report suicidal ideation, or who have depression as a diagnosis.

                                       I have not had the same requests from the Adult Ed providers that I work with. I'm wondering if any programs out there have formal linkages with mental health clinics in their areas to whom they refer students or if they have protocols for faculty who become concerned over a student's well being? Lauri

Hi Lauri,

In my experience, our classes for students with mental illness were located within both public and private mental health programs where the adult education teachers were provided to them at no cost through the public school system.  It was really the best of 'both worlds' as the student received both academic and mental health services under one roof.

Do any of our users have similar program models?  If so, please reply.

Also, please respond to Lauri's question whether you have formal linkages with mental health clinics in your areas for referring students.

Thank you~

Rochelle Kenyon, SME


Hi Rochelle; It is really interesting to me that local mental health progams provide space for adult ed classes in their locations...and a great idea for persons who are connected to those Centers!  I'd love to speak with someone in the Mental Health Agency in the State where you had this experience to pick his /her brain re how this became a common practice. I'm hoping others who experience this type of collaboration in their States will share  them  as well.

                   I'm also interested in whether these clinincs will take referrals from the Adult Ed programs that are not co located with them. For example, are there adult ed programs that have reciprocal referral processes for students who are having mental health  issues but are not currently connected to the Mental Health System?

                   Looking forward to your responses! Lauri


Hi, Lauri,

That co-located model is one that worked very well.  We had similar arrangements with Goodwill Industries, ARC (previously known as Association for Retarded Citizens), UCP (United Cerebral Palsy), Center.(Lighthouse) for the Blind, etc. It was always a perfect match for the agency personnel, and school board staff.  It saves money and resources.   I will contact you directly by email to give you information on my colleague who is still employed there.

Is this a model that other states use?  I invite group users to respond.


Rochelle Kenyon, SME


Hi Heather,

Your discussion posts are always so "Right On!"  I absolutely agree that we sympathize with physical ailments, but often fear mental illness because of our lack of understanding on the topic

I would love to read the article you referenced, The New Asylums: Jails Swell With Mentally Ill.   Do you know whether it is available at no cost from somewhere else? 

Thanks for your continuing participation.

Rochelle Kenyon, SME has an easy to navigate website that has resources on what to look for, how to talk about mental health, and how to get help. (There is a treatment center locator.) They also have videos from community conversations that were held across the country this year. Materials are also available in Spanish. 


Hi group users,

I did some research on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at  to add to this discussion strand,  I was fascinated to read that almost 40,000 Americans take their lives by suicide each year.  That amounts to more deaths from suicide than from car and boat accidents and more than double the amount of deaths by homicide.  

Is anyone surprised by this fact?


You can find a interesting 2-page fact sheet on suicide at  >

Rochelle Kenyon, SME


Hi Rochelle: Thanks for the link to the fact sheet. The info is startling for sure. Another interesting statistic the The American Pediatric Association has shared is that suicidal ideation has increased five fold in 5 to 8 year olds in the last troubling is that?? Lauri