Good public policy can improve mental health, part 9,645,856

There’s a new study available that shows that, for the gazillionth time, public policy can truly make a positive impact on mental health.

First, the study itself. It specifically pertains to the most recent rounds of stimulus checks. Specifically:

A new analysis of Census Bureau surveys argues that the two latest rounds of aid significantly improved Americans’ ability to buy food and pay household bills and reduced anxiety and depression, with the largest benefits going to the poorest households and those with children. The analysis offers the fullest look at hardship reduction under the stimulus aid…Among all households, frequent anxiety and depression fell by more than 20 percent.

This is a remarkable number. Direct financial aid helped to improve rates of depression and anxiety.

It’s also unsurprising. Generally speaking, wealth is not directly related to suicide rates, but subjects related to wealth are. For example, living near people who are wealthier than you may lead to increased rates of suicide. A decline in income – often one that leads to homelessness, housing insecurity, or unemployment – is correlated with higher suicide rates. Furthermore, a landmark study from a couple of years ago showed that raising the minimum wage can directly reduce suicide.

We also know that expanding access to health care can make a positive impact on suicide rates. Of course, you don’t need an advanced degree in public policy to figure out why: When you make health care easier to obtain, this usually involves mental health care, and this means people can be treated for their mental illnesses. This, in turn, can help to attack these illnesses and make someone feel better.

There are ancillary reasons why this is true, as well. One of the less-discussed causes of suicide is pain and chronic pain – I actually had a dear friend lose someone very close to her because of her partner’s pain. Medical care, of course, can treat or mitigate the impacts of countless diseases. This, in turn, can improve someone’s quality of life – and help prevent suicide.

Last, the third rail of politics: Gun control. Like it or not, means reduction policies – policies that make it harder for someone who is suicidal to get a gun – can help to reduce suicide rates. For example, there is a well-established link between gun ownership and suicide. Furthermore, states with stricter gun laws tend to have lower suicide rates. In other words, we CAN do something about suicide rates in government, we already have done quite a bit, and we can do a lot more.

Suicide is not something that just happens. It is not some magical, mystical thing that we have no control over. Yes, there are factors that are well beyond governmental control…but there are also plenty of things we can do to reduce suicide. Things we must have the courage and fortitude to do. I’ve always found mental health to be an under-tapped political issue. Many people know its pain – more than we are willing to admit. And I wish more people spoke about this issue for both the sake of politics and policy.

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