Let’s focus on some positive changes in the mental health community

The following is an opinion piece recently submitted to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel by Mental Health America of Wisconsin. MHA thought that the information included in the Op-Ed would be of interest to our newsletter subscribers as well.

In the past few months, there has been a lot of coverage in various media outlets, including the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, surrounding mental illness and the mental health system. Unfortunately, much of this coverage has been negative and has portrayed the mental health system as not only broken, but in some cases beyond repair.

As a result, Mental Health America of Wisconsin (MHA) would like to inform the community about some of the positive changes that are taking place in the mental health community. In particular, we would like to highlight some of the successes MHA and its collaborative partners have contributed to regarding the issue of suicide prevention, especially in the youth population. The community needs to be aware that positive changes are happening.

From 2006–2010, MHA administered a $1.25 million grant for youth suicide prevention from the Federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The final report, which is available on MHA’s web site, located at www.mhawisconsin.org, provides a comprehensive summary of the outcomes measured through that grant. While MHA worked with 9 primary pilot sites to implement youth suicide prevention programs during the first three years of the grant, in total individuals from 38 counties and 3 tribes benefitted from training, technical assistance and/or grants to support local events. More than 4,500 people received training on youth suicide prevention.

One of MHA’s primary initiatives has always been the prevention of suicide, that is why we are so proud that from 2005–2008, MHA helped contribute to a 45% decline in the suicide rate for 10–19 year olds in Wisconsin. In addition, the percentage of youth responding “yes” to various questions on the Youth Risk Behavior Survey indicative of suicidal ideation or behavior declined throughout the grant period, often significantly. Furthermore, while national rates of suicide went down during the same period, Wisconsin rates went down faster. We were 52% above the national average in 2005 and only 16% above the national aver in 2008.
What statistics really boil down to is that in 2008 we had 25 fewer young people complete suicide than we would have had if the rates had stayed at 2005 levels. And while there are statistics suggesting that 6 people are significantly impacted by every suicide, we can you that when a young person completes, suicide, especially in a small Wisconsin community, the entire community is impacted.

Such success is a reflection of the strong collaborations that characterized this project. MHA recognizes its many partners, who included the Injury Research Center at the Medical College of Wisconsin, the Department of Health Services, the Department of Public Instruction, Helping Others Prevent and Educate About Suicide, the Charles E. Kubly Foundation, and all the local project sites who turned the vision into reality through networking and perseverance.

MHA has lead the formation of Prevent Suicide Wisconsin (PSW). PSW was formed to continue to reduce the number of suicides. PSW’s primary spokesperson, Suzy Favor Hamilton, a former Olympic runner, has been building awareness and public support for suicide prevention across the state. In addition, Ms. Hamilton recorded a series of public service announcements that will air statewide, urging people to seek help for depression or suicidal thoughts. PSW launched a new web site, located at www.preventsuicidewi.org.

Following in the footsteps of PSW, MHA and Jewish Family Services, Inc. (JFS) have formed a coalition called Prevent Suicide Greater Milwaukee. In addition to the lead agencies, a variety of individuals, local agencies and organizations have come together to address the rising incidence of death by suicide in our community including NAMI of Greater Milwaukee, Dry Hootch, UMOS, Community Mental Health Education Project, and others.
Although it’s uncomfortable to look at suicide in a fiscal sense, with a significant level of state and federal funding targeted to youth, we appear to have been able to make a significant dent in the suicide rate. What could we do if there were funds directed at adults and older adults? Money allows us to provide technical assistance to local communities. It allows us to provide training to people working on suicide prevention, to professionals on how to better help someone who may be suicidal, and to the wide variety of individuals who can be our eyes and ears around Wisconsin recognizing and responding to suicide: family, friends, co-workers, teachers, law enforcement officers, child welfare workers and regular people.
Yes, we do have more work to do. However, focusing on some of our successes rather than only system shortcomings can motivate people and communities to continue advocating for people with mental illness, working towards prevention and ultimately saving lives.

Kristina Finnel, MSW, APSW
Mental Health America of Wisconsin

734 N 4th St., Suite 200
Milwaukee, WI 53203
(414) 336 - 7963 (direct line)
(414) 276 - 3124 (fax)


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Last edited by Tyler Schuster.   Page last modified on October 14, 2010

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