To the editor:
It's been a little over three weeks since the suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain and the Centers for Disease Control report on the dramatic increase in suicides in our country. Calls to helplines went up, some people made calls to loved ones and friends to check up on them, a few people took a suicide prevention class. Now what?
During the coming weeks will our attention to a truly serious public health crisis wane? By the time the next legislative session starts, will our attention have turned to other issues? Our history demonstrates that we too often stop paying attention and don't take action.
The first suicide plan for our state was developed by the Minnesota Department of Health in 2000. At that time there was concern about the rising number of suicides - which was about 400 people a year back then. The Legislature appropriated $1.1 million annually to implement the plan.
But in 2005 state funding was eliminated due to budget cuts. Funding was restored for the 2008-2009 biennium only to be reduced for the 2010-2011 biennium by over 75 percent. There was about $98,000 a year to fund community suicide prevention efforts. By the end of 2013, 673 people had died by suicide in Minnesota.
In 2015, the Legislature allocated $146,000 per year for suicide prevention, funding a part-time suicide prevention coordinator and three community-based grants and in 2016 allocated $348,000 per year for suicide prevention, funding a full-time suicide prevention coordinator and six community-based grants. This allowed the department to fund suicide prevention efforts across the state including evidence-based trainings, working with the media on safe messaging and holding postvention trainings to provide technical assistance to communities after a suicide to prevent clusters and contagion.
A new statewide plan was developed to guide our efforts. The goals are broad, focusing on preventing suicide but also reducing risk factors such as isolation, trauma and limiting access to lethal means. The goals also include timely access to mental health care, including crisis care along with better data collection to inform prevention efforts.
The question now is: Will the Legislature consider this a public health crisis and take action to increase funding for these efforts? In 2016, 745 people in our state died by suicide. We need to take the number of lives lost seriously - famous or not - and fund the work to prevent further suicides.
Sue Abderholden is executive director of NAMI Minnesota. The National Alliance on Mental Illness is a nonprofit organization working to improve the lives of children and adults with mental illnesses and their families through education, support and advocacy.