Suicide awareness and prevention efforts should be growing in Ohio, but have been pushed to the back burner, it seems, as the state struggles to find solutions to the opioid epidemic.
The attention on drug abuse and addiction is warranted, certainly, with people in Ohio still dying every day of overdoses. At the same time, though, the state’s mental health issues can’t be neglected.
According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Ohio’s rate of suicide increased 36 percent from 1999 to 2016. The national rate during that period rose 25 percent.
The suicide numbers are especially high among young Ohioans, and could continue to rise in other age groups if changes don’t come in how we address mental illness, including depression. Currently, eight out of 10 children who need mental health care do not get it.
Increasing the number of intervention programs that help parents and others recognize beginning stages of mental health difficulties in children is one of the recommendations made in a recent report from the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Ohio. Early intervention can reduce the number of children who go on to develop even more serious mental illnesses as adults.
But the report suggests much more is needed to address the shortcomings in the state’s mental health care system.
Ohio currently has only one-fifth of the beds necessary for those who need inpatient care. Crisis care services need to be expanded for those who need professional care sooner than later. And more safe, affordable housing is needed when people are released from a hospital or treatment center, or jail or prison.
Another recommendation, to increase public focus on suicide prevention, may be the most urgent need considering the rising number of suicide deaths in Ohio.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death of youth and young adults ages 10-24. On average, 187 youth die of suicide each year.
Though not all suicides can be stopped, suicide can be preventable. It will take a commitment of time, resources, and attention of policymakers to reduce the numbers.
It will help if mental health problems are considered as equitably as medical problems by insurance companies. Most Ohioans have limited mental health benefits.
It will also take more money.
An estimated $75 million would be needed to begin to address the recommendations made in the NAMI Ohio report. Some of that, perhaps, could come from the state’s budget surplus, which stands at over $2 billion.
At the very least, we must up the conservations we have about suicide. But we need to do more than just talk. If we don’t, Ohioans may wake up one day to find our suicide problem is just as out of control as our opioid one is.