Taylor Hager-Plahn wrote just one line on the notecard she brought to a Dakota County Board presentation: "Two years and a few days."
That's how long it has been since Hager-Plahn, 19, attempted suicide.
Hager-Plahn, now a member of the county Children's Mental Health Local Advisory Council, is trying to keep others from going through what she did. The advisory council is identifying gaps in the mental health service system in hopes of reversing a rising suicide rate among young adults.
Dakota County's suicide rate increased 42 percent from 2006 to 2012. Since the fall, seven people ages 18 to 24 group have died by suicide, according to county staff.
Young adults are at a particularly difficult and unstable point in their lives, Hager-Plahn said. They are becoming more independent, the people in their lives change and they face difficult financial realities, she said.
"It's hard enough figuring out who you want to be at 19 years old, and then you add mental illness," she said.
In hopes of creating more stability, the advisory council helped change the county's policy on how young adults transition between mental health case managers.
Until recently, children switched from county mental health case managers to a contracted adult mental health agency at age 18. The new policy lets young adults choose to stay with their county case manager until they are 21, said Mark Oster, social services supervisor.
When the young adults switch to an adult service provider, there will be a several-month process with numerous meetings to help them get to know the new case manager, he said.
Dakota County has also added mental health services in all schools, Oster said.
"Our youth don't understand, I think a lot of times, what's happening to them and don't know how to explain and who to explain it to," said Commissioner Nancy Schouweiler, who served on a state committee on children's mental health.
Parents and students sometimes do not know if what they are going through is a mental health problem or just adolescence, Schouweiler said, and having knowledgeable counselors in schools is critical.
When Hager-Plahn was in high school, she said people did not understand how to deal with her mental illness.
She was penalized when she left class and failed some tests because of her anxiety. Children need to have resources and people to talk to, she said.
"Feeling like there's something wrong with you and not being able to share that — it's not right," she said.
Oster said a couple of Dakota County schools are looking into creating student groups like the "Silver Ribbon Committee" at South High School in Minneapolis. That group raises awareness of mental illnesses, such as depression and eating disorders.
Commissioner Mary Liz Holberg said it seems like the suicide rate among youth is growing exponentially since her children graduated from high school six or more years ago. She asked staff to come back with more data on the death rate.
"My gut tells me this is a really important issue with numbers that are staggering and frightening," she said.