Opinion: Accessible mental health care is necessary for suicide prevention

With every passing suicide prevention month, it seems that more and more “awareness” is raised for mental health and suicide prevention.

Scroll through Twitter or Instagram on any given day in September, suicide awareness month, and you’ll likely see multiple posts about how horrible suicide is. You’ll see various social media users urging their followers to check in and hug their friends, captioning their call to action with a bright red heart emoji.

While that’s all well and good, and we certainly need more hugs in the world, I’m here to tell you that a five-minute check in and a hug from your friend simply isn’t enough. We need to destigmatize mental health and make therapy more accessible.

It’s 2020, and suicide is still a leading cause of death in the United States. And it isn’t getting any better.

From 1999 to 2018, the total suicide rate in the United States increased 35%, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Over 48,000 people died from suicide in 2018. That’s more than two and a half times as many suicides as the number of homicides, which was 18,830.

Suicide was the second leading cause of death among people ages 10 to 34 and the tenth leading cause overall. The prevalence of serious suicidal thoughts was highest among individuals ages 18 to 25, at about 11%.

Of the tens of millions of people affected by mental illnesses, only half receive treatment.

I’m sure there are as many reasons for the lack of treatment as there are causes for suicide. However, it boils down to a lack of accessibility, affordability and acceptance.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 13.4% of adults with serious mental illness had no insurance coverage in 2018. A shocking 60% of U.S. counties did not have even a single practicing psychiatrist.

Those are some alarming statistics for a first world country in the 21st century. You’d think mental health therapy would be considered as essential as any other form of health care, especially if it’s a leading cause of death. You’d think it would be easily accessible and openly accepted.

However, people with mental illnesses still face many stigmas. From the notion that depression or anxiety are just figments of a drama queen’s imagination to the idea that seeking counseling isn’t manly, social constructs about mental health need to be eradicated.

To do so, we need to teach our peers, children, parents and grandparents that it’s okay to seek help. It’s okay to struggle.

We all face difficulty at various points in our lives, and sometimes it will affect our mental health more than other people. Nearly one in five U.S. adults live with a mental illness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Even if your illness isn’t diagnosed or considered “serious,” it is valid, and it deserves resolution. You don’t deserve to keep your suffering locked inside and silent.

Friends and family can and often do help by checking in with their loved ones, letting them know that they’re loved and always providing an outlet to just talk about what’s going on.

However, they are not your therapist. They are not trained to offer the care you likely need. While talking to your loved ones may be a good start, it is only that: a start. They can get QPR training to help you if ever necessary. They can help by encouraging you to seek therapy or counseling from a professional if your situation calls for it.

It might not seem like that big of a deal to someone who has never contemplated or attempted taking their own life, but access to mental health care can literally save a person’s life.

Normalizing mental health care is essential. But making it accessible is even more essential. It could mean the difference between life and death.

MAVS Talk 24 Hour Crisis Line is available for students at 817-272-8255.

If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, you are not alone. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

@CecilLenzen

opinion-editor.shorthorn@uta.edu

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