Mental health wellness advocates recognize September as Suicide Prevention Awareness month, a time to mourn those lost to suicide and share stories of hope. This recognition comes at a troubling time, as suicide remains the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., involving tremendous pain and loss for thousands of families and communities each year. Compounding this suffering, recent studies indicate that the U.S. suicide rate is at a 30-year high.
In response to the tragic increase in suicide, many are finding new ways to provide hope and save lives. From innovative partnerships between suicide prevention groups and gun owner groups to increased visibility of mental health resources in pop culture through music and TV shows, many Americans are working diligently to stop this epidemic.
Congress must also lead on suicide prevention. We actively supported mental health reforms in the 21st Century Cures Act, a bipartisan bill which Congress passed into law last year, and have worked to educate members on suicide prevention. But more can be done. That is why we are pleased to launch the Suicide Prevention Task Force to better focus awareness and prevention nationally.
While legitimate policy disagreements exist on how to best allocate the finite amount of federal mental health resources and funds, initiatives to aid veterans and children consistently draw broad bipartisan support.
The famous abolitionist Frederick Douglass once said, “It is easier to build strong children than repair broken men.” If we promote proven programs that identify troubled children and connect them with needed care early on, before their condition compounds, they can live full and healthy lives. Conversely, if children are not connected to services, especially if they are exposed to a number of adverse childhood experiences, such as physical or emotional abuse, they are more likely to struggle with alcoholism, depression and suicide attempts as adults.
Veterans are another group disproportionately affected by suicide. Many know the oft-cited statistic that 20 veterans a day die by suicide, but few know that the majority of these deaths are veterans 50 years of age or older. More importantly, veterans face greater risk amid the opioid crisis and suffer a fatal overdose rate twice the national average.
More broadly, the rate of addiction and the death toll from the opioid crisis are rising at an alarming pace, and presenting a growing challenge. It is impossible to fight this crisis if we do not accurately recognize its causes.
The time to act is now, and that is why we are creating the Suicide Prevention Task Force: to raise awareness of a significant problem that is causing suffering and claiming American lives every day. Together we can stop suicide and be there for those in need.
If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).