This Bloomberg story came out about two weeks ago and reviewed America’s rising suicide numbers. It’s findings, as you can imagine, are damning. Some of the salient points:
- In 2017, 47,000 people died by suicide – and 1.4 million made attempts.
- From 2000-2006, the suicide rate increased by 1% annually. From 2006-2016, that increased to 2%.
- Life expectancy has fallen for three straight years – the first three consecutive year drop since 1915-1918.
- Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for 10-34 year-olds.
- Suicides cost U.S. businesses between $80-100 billion annually.
- A lack of resources is to blame for many of these issues. According to some experts, the United States needs 50 mental health beds for every 100,000 people – but some states have numbers as low as 5 per 100,000.
The article goes on to say something I’ve discussed in the past – part of the intractability of our mental health and suicide crisis is the intertwined nature of the problems. Health care, genetics, finances, social support, culture – they all interact to influence mental health. As the article notes, combine that with a rapidly changing economy, advances in technology and a changing cultural scene, and you have a recipe for the disaster we’re currently experiencing.
Mental Health parity (reimbursing physical and behavioral health care at the same rates) and a lack of doctors play a role as well. As recent court cases have noted, many insurers still aren’t adequately reimbursing for mental health services, or they are resorting to alternative methods (such as steering patients to doctors who are no longer even in their network) in order to keep people out of treatment.
The story also noted that changing the way we gather data could lead to additional insights which may result in better treatment of mental health disorders: In 2010, England started measuring overall life satisfaction and recently created a “Minister of Loneliness.”
So, what’s the conclusion of this article? Besides “holy crap this is bad”?
I think I’m gonna be repeating myself a bit here. But the conclusion is that addressing suicide for real will require a huge investment of resources and an acknowledgement that it’s more than just mental health. We have to address insurance and fiscal policies. Create a culture which is more accepting of mental health challenges. Understand that the challenges of mental health are comprehensive ones which tie a variety of areas together.
And I think we have to be willing to pay. For care. For insurance access. For bed space in the event that there are emergencies.
I hated reading this article because it was painful. But we need to know the truth about mental illnesses. And the truth is that this problem will take a long, long time to fully address.