This week, we saw the consequences of a culture that stigmatizes and undervalues the importance of mental health in our well-being — whether that was through the tragic deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain or the shocking rise in the prevalence of death by suicide nationwide, including a stunning 40.6 percent in Minnesota from 1999 to 2016 (“National suicide rates rise sharply,” front page, June 8).
Promoting access to mental health care and treatment is our most important tool in combating this trend, whether that’s through behavioral therapy, pharmacology or both. The Affordable Care Act enshrined protections for individuals seeking such treatment by preventing insurers from discriminating against those with common mental health conditions with a “pre-existing condition” label. However, those protections are now under attack. The Department of Justice moved Thursday to begin dismantling those and other consumer protections established under the ACA.
If we are serious as a country about stopping these needless deaths, then there’s a lot more to do (from managing access to firearms, the most common means of death by suicide, to promoting open conversations about mental health and treatment). But for those steps to succeed, we must ensure that we don’t go back. Every Minnesotan and American must stand up for the rights of those struggling with mental illness and any other common medical condition to have affordable, accessible treatment options without penalty from their insurers.
Sean Lynch, Minneapolis
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In light of the devastating statistics on suicide rates in our country, it is a shame that the Oakdale-based Canvas Health crisis hotline is shutting down at the end of the month. This lifesaving hotline was a victim of game-playing at the legislative level and was given an alarming veto by Gov. Mark Dayton. Starting July 1, calls will be taken by busy out-of-state counselors who may not have the time or familiarity with our state’s services.
To illustrate the desperation and need, in the past year alone it was reported that Canvas handled an astonishing 50,000 calls. Also reported were an unbelievable 45,000 suicides that occurred in the U.S. in 2016. Sadly, those figures are predicted to rise through the years. Although resources for those seeking help will always be available, the need for quick, knowledgeable and appropriate intervention is vital. Lives are at stake, after all.
I question the priorities of our legislators.
Sharon E. Carlson, Andover
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My dear brother, John, took his life on March 20. He was 54. He had suffered from depression since his late teens. Throughout his life he had tried everything he could to overcome his illness. He had made a decision early in his life that he would not have children for fear of passing depression to them.
While John had many periods of bearable mental health and lived a productive life, the darkness and the demons would always return. He had been off medications for decades, finding that the side effects scrambled his brain. During his last battle, he had decided to give meds another try.
When someone has a procedure that requires the use of an anesthetic, the patient is required to have someone available to drive them home and monitor them, for obvious reasons. It baffles me that someone in severe mental anguish, who is clearly in a diminished cognitive capacity, is placed on medications with no requirement that someone is available to watch the effects these medications are having. In John’s case, the practitioners relied on him to communicate how he was doing. And when he reached out to his practitioner for help late in the afternoon of March 19, his call was not returned. He was alone at home with no one aware of his agony or plan.
I know that mental illness, and treating it, is complicated. What I don’t understand is why there is not a simple requirement that someone is available to monitor and provide feedback. Our family is convinced that the imprecise process of finding the “right meds” put John in a place that pushed him over the edge. Had there been oversight by a family member, friend or acquaintance, perhaps the outcome would have been different.
In John’s obituary, we were open and honest about his depression and suicide. What was touching, sad and concerning was the number of strangers leaving messages in John’s guest book. People who felt a need to share their own experiences with depression, anxiety, mental illness and suicide. People who felt alone and shamed. People who are deeply hurting.
Just like someone can’t wake up and will away their cancer, someone with mental illness can’t simply force their brain to think differently. What we are doing to accept, recognize and treat mental illness both as a society and medically is not working. Tragically, steadily increasing suicide rates make that abundantly clear.
John was a terrific person who made this world a better place. I miss him. He should be here. As should so many others.
We can do better. We have to do better.
Joe Burke, Mendota Heights
POLICING IN MINNEAPOLIS
Selective enforcement of laws promotes bias, risks liberties
Mayor Jacob Frey and Police Chief Medaria Arradondo of Minneapolis have announced that police have been instructed no longer to conduct “stings” for low-level (whatever this means) pot sales, because a disproportionate number of those being apprehended are African-American men (“Marijuana busts backfire on city,” front page, June 8). If we accept this reasoning as valid, should we not order the Minneapolis police to refrain from going after those who engage in muggings and shootings in the theater and warehouse districts?
Whatever the arrest statistics, I firmly believe that the vast majority of African-American men in Hennepin County are not involved in any of these activities and that the mayor’s reasoning is a scandalous assault on their reputations. Beyond that, selective enforcement of laws puts our collective liberties at risk. If a law is unjust, let’s work to have it repealed or challenge it in court. Our governmental powers being divided into three branches may be cumbersome, but it is intended to protect us all from just this kind of dictatorial power, whatever the reason or justification.
Eric Phillips, Elk River
WOLVES AND ISLE ROYALE
An interesting but flawed alternative to Park Service plan
Maureen Hackett of Howling for Wolves has an interesting idea for repopulating Isle Royale by using captive wolves from the Wildlife Science Center (Opinion Exchange, June 8). I am a licensed wildlife rehabilitator and have specialized in red and gray fox rehabilitation for more than 30 years. Canids that have been raised in captivity become habituated to humans very easily, and learning to hunt is a difficult skill. The prey on Isle Royale would primarily be moose and beaver, and the captive wolves would need to learn hunting skills for these prey animals. This would require human intervention, since the Wildlife Science Center’s wolves have never hunted moose or beaver. Canids that have been habituated would be comfortable approaching humans, which would cause problems on Isle Royale with campers and hikers. I think the Park Service’s approach to capture and relocate wolves that have had no human contact and already know how to hunt moose and beaver is excellent (“Wolves will hunt again on Isle Royale,” front page, June 8).
Connie LaFond, Maple Plain
The writer is a board member at the International Wolf Center in Ely, Minn.