By Senator Catherine Cortez Masto
America is facing a public health crisis as health providers in communities across the country report increasing rates of suicide and mental illness diagnoses. A Center for Disease Control report released this June stated that suicide rates are on the rise across the country, particularly in rural communities. Nevada has much more work to do to reduce our suicide rate. In Nevada, the suicide rate is still much higher than the national average, and our veteran suicide rate is one the highest in the nation at 42.5 out of 100,000 residents. Mental illness and depression can affect anyone, but the unique characteristics of geographically remote communities in our state mean that there are many challenges with accessing the support and health treatments necessary to fight this devastating trend.
I am a proud cosponsor of the American Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act of 2017, which will increase resources and funding for mental health programs supporting local law enforcement, police departments and veterans, and I have demanded more information from this administration about a federal level Joint Action Plan to help reduce veteran suicides. I was proud to support the most recent funding bill, which will provide the Department of Veterans affairs with more than $206 million to address veteran suicides across the country. Last month, I also introduced legislation aimed at protecting those suffering from addiction from being defrauded by deceptive or fake treatment centers.
I know the challenges facing our communities. Rural areas across the nation are facing a severe shortage of mental health professionals to help people struggling with depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, substance abuse and other mental health problems. More than 65% of all rural counties in America do not have a single psychiatrist, and 47% are lacking even a psychologist to listen to and treat patients. In Nevada, there is only one mental health provider for every 580 people living in the state.
I have also seen the incredible determination, strength and compassion that our communities have shown in the face of this crisis. Last summer, I met with members of the Healthy Communities Coalition of Lyon and Storey Counties’ Health Services Hub. They’re the creators of community hub that coordinates the delivery of mental health care and social services for the most vulnerable members of their communities. The Health Services Hub is a partnership that uses federal and state funding to bring together groups like the Lyon County School District, Carson Health and Human Services, and Nevada Rural Counseling to support a wide variety of health initiatives. These vital programs include a series that brings guest speakers to local schools to speak on mental health and drug prevention as well as a support group that has increased the retention rate of mental health providers and non-profit leaders in the area.
Nevada was also one of eight states selected to be part of the Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics (CCBHCs) demonstration program, which has created two new community behavioral health clinics at New Frontier in Fallon and Vitality Unlimited in Elko. This program has allowed Fallon and Elko to provide a large array of mental health and addiction services to residents with the help of enhanced Medicaid payments from the federal government. I am doing everything I can in the Senate to support these innovative partnerships and health programs to ensure Nevada’s communities receive the federal funding and support they need to provide care to all Nevadans.
This month, I want to send a message to everyone struggling with suicidal thoughts, depression or mental illness: you are not alone. Depression and mental illness are not a choice, but rather conditions that require support and treatment. Many of these conditions are treatable with help from support systems and medical care.
If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts or depression, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text TALK to 741741. The National Alliance of Mental Illness also has a 24/7 Nevada crisis hotline at 775-784-8090 as well as support groups and recovery programs throughout the state. Go to www.naminevada.org to learn more about Nevada specific resources. To help a loved one in a time of crisis, Suicide Prevention Lifeline suggests staying with the person, removing lethal means from the area, and escorting them to a mental health provider or an emergency room.
We all know that one of the biggest ways we can help prevent suicide and offer support and hope to those with mental health challenges is by reaching out and connecting people with the resources they need. In honor of the loved ones our state has lost, and those who are still in the midst of their struggle, I stand with our communities and health providers to make sure those in need have every resource necessary to help them recover.