Albany, NY – September is Suicide Prevention Month in New York State. The statistics are staggering: An average of one person dies every 16.2 minutes from suicide; it is the third leading cause of death for young people age 15-24 and the tenth leading cause of death in the United States (homicide is fifteenth). Statistics can help us understand the severity of the problem, but they cannot demonstrate the permanent, immeasurable impact suicide has on survivors, their families, and the friends and loved ones left behind.
Mental illness will affect approximately one in four of us, but many, including those who attempt suicide, never seek treatment. Access and cost are often cited as reasons, but we cannot ignore one of the biggest barriers to treatment – stigma.
What we understand now more than ever is that mental illness is just that – an illness. Those who suffer are not pariahs to be locked away and discussed in whispers and euphemisms, but our friends and neighbors, our colleagues, our brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles. All valued members of our lives and communities.
As Chair of the Assembly Committee on Mental Health, I have met advocates and survivors whose lives have forever been changed by suicide. They tell stories of depression and hopelessness; physical abuse and drug abuse; failed attempts and cries for help. Each story is a heartbreaking reminder of the fragility of life, the struggles we have all faced – our own sorrows and tragedies – and the people in our lives who have reached out along the way with help and hope.
This month, I will be traveling across the State holding public hearings on the New York State Office of Mental Health’s Regional Centers of Excellence Plan - a blueprint to reduce the number of inpatient psychiatric hospitals in New York. The plan has supporters and opponents, but what is clear from both sides is that recovery is possible; treatment is effective; people do heal; and help is available.
Sullivan County residents can call 800-710-7083 for 24-hour outreach services for adults and 845-701-3777 for children under age 18. Orange County residents can call the 24-hour mobile mental health team at 1-888-750-2266. Or for more information about mental illness and advocacy services visit the Mental Health Association of New York State at mhanys.org.