Suicide is now the second leading cause of death among young people ages 15 to 24. Among children ages 5 to 14, it’s the third leading cause of death. And about 20 military veterans take their own life every day. Overall, suicide is the nation’s 10th leading cause of death. 

That’s why Maj. W. Aaron Adams, MD (pictured above), is spreading the word that mental health issues are as much of a threat to life as cancer, heart disease or other serious illnesses. 

“At a recent conference,” Dr. Adams says, “a presenter described mental health as the orphan of medical care. Until recently, Western medicine treated the brain and body as two separate entities. And holistic care used to be considered alternative care. But now there’s science to prove that the mind, body and environment are all connected. They don’t operate in silos. They’re intrinsically linked to a person’s health.” 

As the keynote speaker at the 2019 Joint Mental Health Summit held yesterday at EVMS, Dr. Adams, a pediatrician in the U.S. Army, spoke about the long-term trauma caused by adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, such as experiencing physical or sexual abuse or witnessing spousal abuse. His data revealed that 64% of the population has had an ACE, and that a direct correlation exists between childhood traumas and suicide, attempted suicide, mental illness and unhealthy behaviors as adults. He also presented data specific to military families. 

In serving the mental health needs of a region with a large military population, the summit’s 190 attendees seemed eager to expand their military cultural competency. The summit’s theme, “Addressing Child and Family Mental Health Needs, Including Military and Veteran Populations,” brought together experts from the M. Foscue Brock Institute for Community and Global Health at EVMS, EVMS Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters and the Hampton VA Medical Center. 

Other morning presenters focused on putting trauma-informed care into practice and caring for children and families through evidence-based mental health treatment modalities. In the afternoon, a project to map community mental health resources was discussed. Then the summit’s four working groups met to advance their efforts to improve access to mental health services in Hampton Roads. The working groups have been active since EVMS’ first mental health summit, held in 2014. 

Stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, Dr. Adams says he traveled to EVMS’ fifth mental-health summit not only to present but to learn from other experts. 

“Today,” he explains, “I heard someone say that when a pediatrician is treating a child, the child isn’t the patient — the whole family is the patient. I think I practice that way, but I’ve never heard it put quite like that. It was thought-provoking.” 

View the WAVY-TV 10 coverage of the summit.