To mark Mental Health Month, the Davis County Mental Health agency is sponsoring a series of activities to highlight the risk of mental illness in young people.

"Nothing should be more important to us as a community and a nation than ensuring that the next generation enters adulthood in good mental health," said Dr. Russell Williams, the agency's executive director."Our hope is that adding to the understanding of mental illness in childhood and adolescence will increase the likelihood that people get appropriate treatment while they are still young, before their illnesses become intractable," Williams said.

The agency is sponsoring a health fair display Friday and Saturday, May 17-18, at Layton Hills Mall. The display will be open from 2 to 8:30 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday.

At the display, self-esteem masks will be made and persons can enter a drawing for river trips and community education classes.

"Many people don't realize that mental illnesses start much earlier and that children are at a greater risk of developing them than previously believed," Williams said, citing a recent national study showing that people under 20 are in the peak range for developing depression, obsessive-compulsive disorders, phobias and substance abuse problems.

"We are especially concerned about children at risk," Williams said. "Children who, because of certain genetic, psychological, social, and family factors, are particularly vulnerable to developing serious mental disorders."

Williams identified some of the factors as low birth weight, physical trauma, learning difficulties, poverty, homelessness, poor parental supervision and child abuse.

Early intervention and appropriate treatment can help most children at risk lead healthy, productive lives, Williams said.

"Effective treatments are available and researchers are developing promising new leads all the time," he said.

Williams said parents, teachers and other adults need to learn the warning signs of mental illness.

"People need to realize that mental illness is a real disease that can strike anyone regardless of family background or moral character and cannot be overcome by willpower," Williams said.