Your voice, your choice

Dear Editor,

Substance abuse and mental health problems affect all communities nationwide. According to the 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an estimated 22.5 million Americans are current drug users. One in four young people aged 12-20 report drinking alcohol in the past month, and one in five Americans smokes cigarettes.

With commitment and support, these and other behavioral health issues can be prevented. The focus of National Prevention Week May 12-17 is to increase public awareness of, and action around, substance abuse and mental health issues.

This year's National Prevention Week theme, "Your voice. Your choice. Make a difference." emphasizes that the prevention of substance abuse and promotion of mental health starts with each and every one of us. Through our choices, we can set an example of health and wellbeing for others. With our voices - whether spoken or written - we can raise awareness of behavioral health issues and help create healthier and safer communities.

That's a message we need to spread far and wide. Almost 21 million people in America are classified with substance dependence or abuse, and more than twice as many adults have a mental illness. Through National Prevention Week, people become more aware and able to recognize the signs of mental health problems and substance abuse.

Equally important, community members of all walks of life learn what they can do to help prevent these problems before they start. Whether by being a shoulder for someone to lean on, leading someone in need to help and resources for a behavioral health issue before it worsens, or setting an example by staying substance-free, we all have a role to play in keeping the people around us - and ourselves - healthy and safe.

Please join me in observing National Prevention Week and support this year's theme, "Your voice. Your choice. Make a difference."

Brandy Richards for the

Four Rivers Alliance