I was blessed to have the greatest mentor in graduate school. He helped me on my dissertation, wrote great letters of recommendation, provided good advice, continued support throughout my career, and most importantly, was a true friend.
He killed himself a year ago.
The Fall 2016-Spring 2017 academic year was a devastating one for me. In addition to his death just before graduation, one of my best friends in town lost his son, a great kid, to a similarly tragic loss. Both deaths still haunt me.
Every time there’s a celebrity in the news who takes his or her life, like Kate Spade or Anthony Bourdain, we ask ourselves why. Even when there’s a note, or last writings, we still don’t seem to have a clue. Many of these people outwardly seem fine, having lots of fun, great adventures, many friends. We wish we could have done something, or do something for those who live, either with the silent struggle, or the public knowledge, pain and often the stigma that follows it.
As Ben Domenech with the conservative “The Federalist” publication writes “We are experiencing an incredible increase in suicide levels according to the latest research from the CDC. From 1999 to 2016, suicide increased in every U.S. state but one (and that one is Nevada, which remains in the top ten states for suicides). It is one of the top ten causes of death and one of only three such causes on the rise. The rise is seen in every age group and across all demographics, but particularly among people who look like Bourdain: 84 percent of suicide victims are white, and roughly 77 percent are men.”
Yet politics can be a strangely cruel arena for combatting our greatest threats…the real ones that plague us. As NPR reports “[T]he budget blueprint also slashes spending for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration by $665 million. Additionally, Bloomberg reported the National Institute of Mental Health would see a 30 percent reduction in funding — a half a billion dollar decrease — in 2019.” And the overall Health and Human Services (HHS) Department, which is charged with tackling such problems, is getting a 21 percent decrease according to mentalhealthamerica.net.
If you think the national government is alone in spending less on mental health, you would be wrong. The Cummings Institute found that states cut $5 billion in mental health services budgets in just three years alone (2009-2012), despite their evidence that nearly one in four adults experiences a mental illness in a given year, with nearly half of all adults experiencing one in their lifetimes. Those with mental health problems are forced to go to the overworked E.R., shifting the burden to the neediest Americans as well as the U.S. taxpayer, while violent crime rates increase in the states with the greatest cuts.
If the wealthy like Bourdain and Spade couldn’t get help, what about those with less income?
Until these cuts are reversed, I applaud those who take to social media to post contact numbers and suicide hotlines, and a promise to listen, to at least try and get people some help. And I am proud of LaGrange College which is now offering a graduate program in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. Other schools, especially the public colleges, which offer these studies, are being hit by statewide budget cuts in these programs. This means there will be fewer mental health professionals to treat people. Such losses are tragic, at the time where the need is the greatest.