Suicide rate increases as help drops

Sarah Lenz

Suicide rates in Minnesota have been rising in recent years, while the amount of state funding for suicide prevention has drastically declined. 
 
Now, community organizations and legislators are requesting additional state dollars be set aside to train more educators and health professionals in the state to notice suicide warning signs among at-risk people.
 
Over the last 14 years, state funding to deter suicide has decreased from $1.1 million annually to $98,000 each year.
 
The Minnesota Department of Health awards funding each year for suicide-prevention training. It also provides grants to three community and nonprofit organizations in the state that administer the training: the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Evergreen Youth and Family Services and Suicide Awareness Voices of Education.
 
Sen. Kathy Sheran, DFL-Mankato, who has worked in the nursing field for over 30 years, said she’s been looking at the comparison of suicide rates with the amount of state funding for prevention efforts.
 
“We have decreased our funding for suicide prevention, and there is a relationship to the cuts that you make … you do see the consequences of that,” she said. 
 
Rep. Bob Barrett, R-Lindstrom, authored a bill this year that would provide funding to train more educators, health care professionals and community organizations to observe warning signs in children and teenagers with mental illnesses.
 
Dave Slavens, board chair of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention chapter in Minnesota said some schools welcome additional suicide-prevention training, while others turn down additional help. Parents also have voiced concerns about their children being taught about suicide, he said.
 
“Parents are often afraid if we talk about suicide, their children will think about suicide. That is backwards,” Slavens said. “Kids need to know where to go to get help.” 
 
Expanding suicide-prevention training within schools and in communities is a building block toward a more substantial understanding of suicide and mental illnesses, 
Barrett said.
 
Sean Haines and his wife, Katie, formed the local organization Stomp Out Suicide in 2012 after their 15-year-old daughter died as a result of suicide. Haines said the group helps fund mental health screenings for schools if they can’t afford it.
 
“Our goal is to enable communities all across the state of Minnesota … to be able to have mental health programs that are evidence based so it’s easier for them to pick out warning signs,” he said.
 
Further state support to increase education on mental illnesses and suicide will help bring more awareness, Haines said.
 
State lawmakers have recently approved additional funding for suicide awareness and prevention. Final funding amounts for suicide prevention will be determined before the session ends May 18.
 
“We have a surplus … we can restore some of the significant reductions we’ve made in mental health initiatives,” Sheran said.