The COVID-19 pandemic brought on a series of challenges unlike any we’ve witnessed during our lifetime. Society as we knew it shut down. We forced students into online classrooms, restricted nursing home visits and discouraged family gatherings. In short, we isolated people, and even though we have moved past most of those restrictions, many are still struggling from the lingering effects of prolonged isolation. Studies show more than half of Americans say pandemic-related restrictions and uncertainty negatively impacted their mental health.
With the increased impacts to mental health driving up rates of depression and anxiety, rates of suicide have also increased. This crisis hits close to home here in our state, with the most recent data showing suicide rates in Alabama are higher than the national average. Suicide impacts all age groups. It’s the second leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 14 and 25 to 34, and the third leading cause of death for people ages 15 to 24. In Alabama, 44,000 adolescents between the ages of 12 to 17 battle depression. I commend Gov. Kay Ivey and the Alabama Department of Mental Health for their work to expand access to mental health facilities across our state, and hope more people will take advantage of these resources.
September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, an important time to raise awareness about mental health and continue our efforts to let those who are struggling know that they are not alone. In particular, we should use this time to support America’s veterans. The brave men and women who proudly donned our nation’s uniform are not exempt from battles with mental health. Suicide is the leading cause of death for female veterans, and the second leading cause for male veterans. We lose an average of 18 veterans a day to suicide, with four times as many veterans taking their own life than dying in combat.
Part of my work since assuming office has focused on highlighting and expanding resources and treatments already available to combat the veteran suicide epidemic. Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy, or HBOT, is one such resource largely supported by veterans in Alabama and across the nation to address Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), among other conditions. I introduced the HBOT Access Act to provide high-risk veterans, who have exhausted all other options, access to this treatment.
For veterans living in rural areas, accessing proper mental health care and treatment can be especially challenging. The Guaranteeing Healthcare Access to Personnel Who Served Act, or GHAPS Act, seeks to find innovative solutions for veterans who may not be able to easily drive to a VA facility. In difficult moments, knowing someone is available via phone or through a computer screen could make all the difference.
When it comes to mental health, just one conversation can save a life. Together, we can work to end the suicide crisis and prevent tragedies from happening in our communities. If you or a loved one is struggling with thoughts of suicide, the 988 National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available 24 hours a day via call or text. If you are a veteran, the Veterans Crisis Line is available to assist 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-8255.