Breaking Barriers Surrounding Mental Health
By Rep. Kristi Noem
In South Dakota today, about 30,000 adults and 9,000 kids live with serious mental health conditions. With nearly every family and every community affected, it’s overloaded the system. As a result, too many are falling through the cracks, landing in a jail cell, homeless shelter, or worse.
The reasons for this are numerous. Some people may lack the financial resources for treatment. Others may be able to afford help, but there are no spaces available. Still others may fear what their friends or family may think, so they never seek assistance. We need to break these barriers down.
While not everything can be solved on the federal level, we’ve worked over the last few years to aggressively address this issue in the U.S. House. In 2016, for instance, we passed legislation I cosponsored to help make sure families can be meaningful partners in caring for those with serious mental illnesses. That same legislation made advances in tele-psychiatry to better reach rural communities and offered more tools for suicide prevention, especially in tribal communities. Other provisions were included to fix the shortage of crisis mental health beds, improve the transition from one level of care to another, and even offer alternatives to institutionalization for those with serious mental illnesses.
More recently, the House passed a bill I introduced that aims to dig into the mental health resources available to those on Medicare. Today, millions of seniors lack adequate access to mental health services. By taking a data-driven approach, I’m hopeful we can quickly and accurately target resources to do the most good with the fewest amount of taxpayer dollars.
At the same time, we’ve been working to increase access to mental healthcare for veterans. In 2016, we got the Clay Hunt SAV Act signed into law, which I’m hopeful will help as nearly two dozen American veterans lose their life to suicide daily. We have also dedicated more resources to exploring how factors like military service, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and traumatic brain injuries can put one at higher risk for suicide.
Still, there is much that must be done in this area. While this is not true in every circumstance, the consequences of not addressing mental health concerns could be a matter of life and death.
This month is Suicide Prevention Month in South Dakota. We have one of the nation’s highest suicide rates, so please be aware of the people in your life. If someone you know is struggling with their mental health, act now. If it’s an emergency, dial 911 immediately. If not, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) is open around the clock for help. Don’t wait to call. Together we can work to overcome this.