Mental health experts discuss importance of early intervention for youth amid rising suicide rates

Mental health experts are sounding the alarm about a rising suicide rate across the U.S. 

It was announced Tuesday that Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff put $15 million behind increased mental health services for children and adolescents at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital.

One young woman coping with mental illness says more services will save lives.

At 23 years old, Megan Alvarado, of San Francisco, is on what she describes as a continuous journey to recovery.  

"When I was 13, I began having symptoms of depression and anxiety," said Alvarado.   

She says her personality changed from outgoing to anti-social. Alvarado says her mother tried to get her psychiatric help, but there was a six-month long wait to get an appointment.  

"When you are in crisis, when you are desperate for treatment and help, that's too long. That's a ridiculous amount of time," said Alvarado. 

She ended up being treated by her pediatrician who was not a mental health expert.

"I just felt really alone in the struggle," said Alvarado, "I was suicidal. I self-injured. I stopped eating. It was the worst-case scenario."   

Alvarado is far from being alone in her struggle.

"The suicide rate among girls have doubled in the last ten years and that's absolutely something we need to be alarmed about," said Dr. Bryan King, head of psychiatry at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital.    

He blames the shortage of pediatric psychiatrists and long waits for appointments. 

Dr. King says the $15 million gift from Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff will be used to double the number of pediatric psychiatrists and to start a consultation program to help pediatricians treat mentally ill patients. 

"Mental disorders can be dealt with early and outside of the long lines that these families will otherwise have to wait in to get care," said Dr. King. 

Alvarado said after years of trying to calm the chaos in her head, she finally got the help of a psychiatrist, enabling her to live a full life.

She now works as a program coordinator for the National Alliance on mental illness, helping others in the same struggle. 

"Recovery is certainly a journey.  It takes a lot of work," said Alvarado, but she's undaunted.