Jim Ramstad: Recovery Act must address suicide prevention

  • Article by: JIM RAMSTAD
  • Updated: August 17, 2009 - 3:11 PM

We are a nation of resilient people, often defined by achievements in times of crisis and challenge. However, the economic challenges, unemployment and foreclosures individuals face continue and are clearly pushing increasing numbers to their limit.

The psychological impact of an economic crisis on individuals and families can easily be compared to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina -- where businesses and jobs vanished and people were forced from their homes. Such losses are known risk factors for increased psychological distress, substance abuse and resulting behaviors.

Just recently, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration announced that calls to suicide crisis centers have increased sharply in the past year with more than 57,000 calls in July alone, of which 20 to 30 percent were specifically linked to economic distress.

At the same time, when demand is growing for social services designed to help people in physical, mental and financial stress, state governments are being forced to cut back because of budget pressures.

Whether or not one agrees with the economic stimulus package recently enacted, it is troubling to note that it contained little or no help for people suffering right now from psychological distress, drug or alcohol abuse, family strain and contemplating suicide.

Suicide prevention was a glaring omission from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. We need to help those who need help right now and are reaching out for that help.

Surely, some of the hundreds of stimulus billions yet to be spent could be invested in immediately saving lives -- a down payment on the future is of little value for those with no future because they are driven to despair and see no other way out.

In the longer term, as we work to advance health through system reform, the omission of mental health and substance abuse services cannot continue. These chronic health conditions are projected to become the leading cause of disability in the United States, surpassing cardiovascular and other physical diseases by 2020.

While opportunities for investments through the stimulus package may have passed, it's not too late to ensure the prevention and treatment of mental illnesses and addictions are integral to health system reform.

JIM RAMSTAD, MINNETONKA, FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN FROM MINNESOTA AND COCHAIR OF THE ADDICTION, TREATMENT AND RECOVERY CAUCUS; AND CHARLES G. CURIE, GAITHERSBURG, MD., FORMER ADMINISTRATOR OF THE SUBSTANCE ABUSE AND MENTAL HEALTH

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