Recently, the suicides of fashion designer Kate Spade and famed chef, author, and TV personality Anthony Bourdain sent shockwaves through America and the world at large.
Outside of the collective shock, anger, and grief that ebbs and flows with news cycles, only to fade away until the next high profile event, vulnerable people from all walks of life are left wondering: How can people who seemingly have it all, throw it all away? If they can’t make it, what chance do any of us have? Why should I even try anymore?
Let’s all take a collective deep breath. Close your eyes. Hold it for a bit, then let go. OK. Let’s talk.
First: fame and money do not magically protect people from having problems. Second: people who are depressed need medical care, just the same as if they had cancer or a heart disease.
Comedian Robin Williams. Musicians Chester Bennington and Kurt Cobain. What did they have in common besides fame and their manner of death? Their long-standing, sometimes public struggles with anxiety, depression, alcohol and drug addictions, and other conditions that impair judgment and negatively impact mental health.
In reality, people who complete suicide are most often casualties of depression or other chronic mental health disorders. Suicide is simply the method they employ to make their pain stop.
In the immediate aftermath of Spade and Bourdain’s deaths, calls to suicide hotlines went up 65%, while texts to the Crisis Text Line increased by 116 percent. It’s not unusual, because we see similar increases occur with every high profile suicide. These increases tell us that people are struggling. They need help and treatment, and for whatever reasons, they aren’t getting it.
The lack of access to mental health care – as well as the deep roots of the stigma associated with mental health issues and care – is one of America’s most shameful not-so-secret secrets.
Even worse – according to new research just released by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide rates for people aged 10 and older increased by 25% from 1999 through 2016. Twenty-five states experienced a rise in suicides by more than 30 percent. North Dakota topped the list of states with a nearly 58% increase.
Nearly 45,000 people died from suicide in 2016, and the numbers are still rising. For context: that’s the equivalent of everyone who lives in Prescott plus another 2,000 or so people – the populations of Prescott and Pima combined. Gone. Every year.
Every day we ask friends, family and coworkers, ‘How are you?’ – yet rarely do we answer honestly rather than by rote. A quick ‘I’m fine’, and then we quickly move on without really sharing anything. Imagine if we were all open and honest about our struggles.
It’s OK to not be OK – we need to be able to speak up – to say something when we’re hurting or in danger.
We also need to take a long, hard look at access to mental health care, as well as how we treat people with mental health problems rather than simply allowing our elected officials to pay lip service, send thoughts and prayers, and then do nothing. Young, old, rich or poor, suicide does not discriminate, nor does mental illness. We need to demand action.
Two effective ways to improve access to mental health care include: 1) enforcing mental health parity laws, and 2) repealing barriers to adequate care, like the Institutions for Mental Diseases (IMD) exclusion in Medicaid.
Congress established Medicaid in 1965. Since then, the IMD exclusion has prevented Medicaid patients (ages 21-64) from accessing short-term, acute care in psychiatric hospitals or substance use disorder (SUD) treatment facilities. Considering that Medicaid is the single largest funding source for behavioral health treatment in the United States, finally repealing the IMD exclusion would potentially save thousands of lives every year.
How Bayless Integrated Health is Taking Action Now
Bayless Integrated Healthcare is working hard to eliminate the barriers to accessing mental health care and services. We’ve pioneered the way by incorporating the most important healthcare services under one roof: primary care and behavioral health.
While most patients have to visit multiple locations for comprehensive healthcare services, Bayless has created a new model of wellness that acknowledges that the health of our minds and bodies are equally important. That we all matter.
We will continue developing new relationships with diversified payer types including Medicaid, Medicare Advantage, long-term care, employee assistance programs, workers’ compensation and commercial health plans while expanding the Bayless services, locations, and brand.
Until next time: If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HOME to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.