In the state of Connecticut, 359 individuals were lost to suicide in the year 2020. With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, suicidal thoughts, tendencies, and actions have only gotten worse and demonstrate the exacerbated mental health crisis in our country. Suicide rates have increased 30% from 2000 to 2018 across the country and one life is lost every eleven minutes. In addition, 90% of suicide deaths have been linked to individuals who already struggled with a mental health condition.
I could list these facts all day. Suicide rates are on the rise, not only imposing a huge risk to the vulnerable population of those who are already unlikely to reach out and ask for help but also imposing incredible costs to the state. Suicides and suicide attempts lead to the loss of billions of dollars every year in the United States. This financial burden stems from the costly resources needed to support emergency crises of untreated individuals. Whether it is the loss of individual productivity or medical care involving ambulances, coroners, specialty care, at-home care, and follow-up support, these costs would be mitigated by preventative and regular care. With only 42% of young adults diagnosed with a mental health condition receiving treatment, it makes much more sense to have this large pool of funding directed toward providing preventative and supportive care instead of emergency medical situations caused by a lack of continuous and accessible resources.
This March, the Connecticut General Assembly introduced S.B. 368, An Act Concerning Suicide Prevention. This bill seeks to expand the number of members on the Connecticut Suicide Advisory Board to include representatives that have been directly impacted by suicide, as well as those who have an education and background in treating and supporting those with mental health conditions. Therapists, non-profit representatives, trained professionals, and ordinary people who have suffered tremendous loss from suicide or experienced this crisis themselves will help set a new precedent in our state. The bill will also require general physicians to renew their training in mental health and suicide treatment every six years to make sure they are up to date on current practices, language, and strategies when it comes to best supporting their patients’ mental well-being.
Although this will create just a small change in our state statute, this bill to amend the current Connecticut policy is crucial in guaranteeing legislative support when it comes to protecting our community from preventable losses. With the passing of this bill, Connecticut will have representation from those who know firsthand the dangers of suicidal thoughts and have experience in supporting others in such a difficult time. It will also ensure that our physicians are ready to help their patients from a wide range of backgrounds and in a wide range of situations. With specialists inaccessible for many individuals and families, general practitioners are a crucial part of making sure that all those who need it are getting access to the correct information when it comes to both the health of our bodies and minds.
We should all demand improvements in our mental health care system. As a current college student who struggles with mental health, I am in the thick of it. Even on a campus that is supposed to have a wealth of mental health resources, students are forced to wait three months to even speak to a care professional. I cannot begin to imagine what would happen if we lacked even this finite resource. Consider our Connecticut residents who already struggle to make ends meet or those who were raised to think mental health struggles are something to hide and never discuss. Think of the kids who must wait to be treated in emergency rooms because they cannot afford well visits, check-ups, or clinician care when they need it. We must take care of those who do not have the words to describe the internal suffering they are undergoing or the thoughts in their head. Instead of waiting until the last cry for help, Connecticut can provide the information and resources for residents to offer preventative and basic support to fight this epidemic head on.
I know firsthand what it is like to be scared, to feel alone, and like I am the only one struggling with thoughts of depression and anxiety. We have been taught for too long that mental health is something we must push through, that one day we will wake up and it will all be okay. What if we teach our kids, our parents, and our leaders to share our stories and ask for help? What if we put in place measures so that all Connecticut residents know where to turn to find resources? What if we know where to turn, what numbers to call, and that the people making the decisions care about us?
Mental health conditions are not unavoidable or inescapable. But luckily, they are treatable. Connecticut can lead the way in protecting its citizens by creating space for representatives who can amplify the voices of those struggling with mental health and suicidal ideation. Bills like S.B. 368 are more important than ever, amid a 25% increase in mental health diagnoses since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic with one out of every eight trips to the ER due to a mental health or substance abuse emergency. Please, contact your Connecticut General Assembly representatives here to urge them to vote in favor of S.B. 368.
Julia Sulkowski is a sophomore at Yale, double majoring in neuroscience and English.