Sacramento, California – May 24,2023 – May is designated as Mental Health Awareness Month, established by The Mental Health America organization in 1949. The purpose of Mental Health Awareness Month is to shed light on the realities of mental health issues and reduce the stigmas associated with them. It’s a time for communities to unite and acknowledge the profound impact mental illness has on individuals, their families, and society.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, alarming rates of suicide among adolescents have amplified the importance of mental health and suicide prevention. Legislative initiatives such as the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act (GLSMA) and the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) allocate funds and support programs that aim to reduce suicide rates and enhance access to mental health services.
Through the support of these acts, organizations like SNAHC can utilize federal resources to provide comprehensive mental health care by investing in prevention efforts, early intervention programs, and improved access to services. However, it is equally crucial to prioritize raising public awareness about mental health and suicide. By fostering a greater understanding of these issues within communities, we can collectively create a supportive environment that prevents future tragedies and promotes well-being.
Mental health issues and thoughts about self-ham affect more people than commonly perceived. According to NAMI’s “Fast Facts” approximately “1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness each year,” making it urgent to increase public consciousness about mental health and suicide (NAMI). Sadly, suicide rates have been steadily rising over the years and is one of the leading causes of death among adolescents and young adults. The COVID-19 pandemic has further escalated this issue, with suicide now ranking as the “2nd-leading cause of death among people aged 10-14” and the “3rd leading cause of death among those aged 15-24 in the U.S.” Although these statistics may be unsettling, it is crucial to acknowledge their significant impact and raise awareness about mental health and suicide. This distressing reality has motivated leaders to drive systemic change that offers greater support and advocate for improved health care services for those in need.
The impact COVID-19 has had on Mental Health, legislative acts such as the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act and Mental Health Services Act have become critical. U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan recognized the pandemic has exacerbated the “need to focus on mental health, wellness, [and] mental healthcare” and pushed for the reauthorization of the GLSMA (Rhoades, 2023). The GLSMA, originally passed by Congress in 2004, supports community-based programs by providing funds that contribute to suicide prevention and mental health. The federal government awards “$71 million annually to states and nonprofits”, with “$50 million [for] state and tribal grants.” Trahan stressed how effective the GLSM-funded programs are, stating these “science-backed investments,” save lives when implemented on the local level and “letting [it] expire wasn’t an option.” Thanks to Trahan’s efforts, the GLSMA has been reauthorized and was passed by the House of Representatives in June of 2022 to address the mental health crisis.
Furthermore, the Mental Health Services Act is another vital legislative initiative that plays a resourceful role in allocating funds to programs aimed at raising awareness about mental health and preventing suicide. The MHSA was passed by California in 2004 and is funded by “a one percent income tax on personal income [more than] $1 million per year” (DHCS). It’s designed to improve the behavioral health systems of California by striving to provide better quality services for individuals with mental health conditions, those at risk for developing them, and their families. As the rates of mental health have been rising over the past couple of years, the GLSM and MHSA have been vital in fighting stigmas surrounding mental health and transforming the behavioral health systems in California.
Federal funding from these acts has allowed SNAHC to enhance mental health care through various activities. Since 2019, SNAHC has implemented GLS suicide prevention and early intervention programs, such as the Helping Our People End Suicide (HOPES) study in collaboration with U.C. Berkely. This research study evaluated the feasibility of a suicide screener for American Indian and Alaska Native youth. Additionally, SNAHC also offers free mental health counseling services to Native or Indigenous youth and their families, along with providing free suicide prevention trainings to community organizations, including Question Persuade Refer (QPR), Mental Health First Aid for Youth & Families, SafeTalk, and ASIST.
These initiatives aim to educate potential patients, ensure their understanding of how SNAHC can support their healing and recovery, and refer them to specialized providers tailored to their needs.
Some of the mental health counseling services offered include supportive therapy, harm reduction, self-care skills building, and grief support, which help patients manage stress and develop healthy coping skills. Moreover, with the reauthorization of the GLS program, SNAHC can continue to evolve these programs to assist those who struggle with mental health and thoughts of suicide.
Mental Health Awareness Month serves as a crucial reminder to prioritize mental health and reduce associated stigmas. Statistics concerning mental health and suicide may evoke fear, but it stresses the importance of recognizing the urgent need to bring awareness to these issues. Fortunately, the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act and the Mental Health Services Act have improved access to mental health services. Organizations like SNAHC address these concerns by making comprehensive care and support accessible for individuals facing mental health challenges. By working together, a positive difference can be made in the lives of those struggling with mental health issues and thoughts of suicide.
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