Rachel Roberts: Today is Suicide Prevention Day — we have a lot more to do to prioritize mental heal

NKY Tribune 9/10/2020 The rise of COVID-19 has understandably re-focused our attention on healthcare access and inequities. One component that hasn’t gotten as much attention, but should, is access to mental healthcare. We’re in a moment where more of us than ever before could benefit from having an established relationship with a qualified provider.

Although we have seen sustained success in the fields of mental healthcare, counseling and addiction services in recent decades – from gains in medicine to a more aware and understanding public – the statistics are clear that this is not enough.

Indeed, two of the main drivers behind reports showing life expectancy is declining in the United States are the rising rates of drug addiction and suicide. The public has a good understanding of the importance of addressing the former, but comparatively less attention is given to how to spot and then stop someone from taking his or her life.

Rachel Roberts

To understand suicide’s sizable scope, consider that its number here in the United States is four times higher than those murdered and a third larger than those killed in traffic accidents. Suicide rates are highest among adults between 45 and 64, and those with substance abuse disorders are six times more likely to complete suicide than those without, according to Mental Health America. Worldwide, there are 800,000 suicides a year, or an average of one every 40 seconds.

I learned from an early age how much of a difference it makes when someone in crisis gets the care they need. My dad worked as an addiction specialist and had his office on the ground floor of our home. There were many times that I saw him open the door for clients who were struggling to survive, and there is no telling how many lives he and his friends in the field saved.

I will never forget the example he set, and it is one of the reasons why I proudly serve as a board member for Mental Health America of Kentucky and why improving access to mental health and addiction services across Kentucky is so important to me as a state legislator.

To further that goal, I am sponsoring legislation that would make what I think is a long-overdue change. I chose to announce it today, September 10th, because it falls on World Suicide Prevention Day and within Suicide Prevention Awareness Month for our country.

In short, my bill calls for comprehensive health insurance plans to include an annual preventative mental health checkup.

Just as we understand the importance of monitoring blood pressure and cholesterol and regularly visiting the dentist and eye doctor, we should check on our mental health in the same way.

If we want to prioritize mental health and wellbeing for all Kentuckians, we’re going to have to do more than we have done. There may be no single answer to get us to that destination, but my bill undoubtedly would move us in the right direction.

If you or someone you know is at risk of committing suicide, please do not hesitate to act. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day and can be reached at 800-273-8255. If it is an immediate emergency, please call 911.

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