This year, the reality that many Americans face serious crises of mental health and wellness has been impossible to overlook or ignore. Not only have several high-profile celebrities tragically taken their own lives, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found the suicide rate in Arkansas increased by about 37 percent from 1999 to 2016.
This is sobering, but the good news is that our state and the country are taking steps to confront the challenges of mental illness and suicide head-on. Through a variety of treatment programs and public awareness campaigns, we’re turning our attention and resources toward solutions that help address this crisis and save lives.
Earlier this year, I toured the new Crisis Stabilization Unit (CSU) in Sebastian County. The first of four CSUs scheduled to open across Arkansas, this facility is equipped to provide services to Arkansans experiencing mental health crises. In the past, such individuals would have been transported to county jails that are already experiencing overcrowding in addition to being unsuited to diagnose, treat and respond to those who find themselves in need of specialized care relating to mental health.
Intervention and treatment are the keys to avoiding outcomes like suicide and helping individuals feel supported and find hope. The central Arkansas CSU began accepting patients in July and two more CSUs will open their doors in northwest and northeast Arkansas to help our loved ones, friends and neighbors in need of these life-saving services.
It’s not just CSUs that are helping confront mental health issues and prevent suicide. Congress and the federal government are acting as well. This year, Congress passed the National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act. The president signed the bill into law, requiring the Federal Communications Commission to evaluate the effectiveness of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and study the feasibility of creating a three-digit phone number – akin to 911 – intended to be a resource for those in a mental health crisis.
Mental health struggles and suicidal thoughts or feelings reach across every demographic, but one group that is particularly susceptible is our veteran population.
We know that 20 veterans commit suicide each day. In Arkansas, veterans account for about 20 percent of all suicides. Congress is working to provide the personnel, services and tools to help veterans facing mental illness struggles by improving the Veterans Crisis Line and enhancing screening and assessment of those at risk.
Arkansas ranked 14th in the nation for deaths by suicide in 2016. Our response to this problem cannot be delayed or downplayed. Governor Hutchinson has proclaimed September as Suicide Prevention Awareness Month and state agencies are working together to provide resources and treatment.
These are all indications that suicide prevention is now a priority. Arkansans in need of mental health treatment and support are depending on us to treat this situation with the seriousness, empathy and action it requires. Together, we can support those at risk of suicide and help them believe that tomorrow is worth living for.