Treating mental illness saves lives

Students Against Destructive Decisions observes Suicide Awareness Month in March, but the University’s Residence Hall Association is trying to raise awareness early this year. Their annual “Show for Life,” a talent show that raises money for suicide awareness and prevention on campus, will be held Feb. 21 in the Coffman Union Theater from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.

All proceeds from the tickets sales – $3 ahead of time at residence hall information desks for students living in the residence halls and $4 at the door for all other campus community members – are being donated to the Andrew Strom Suicide Awareness Fund. Strom was a residence hall student who committed suicide (off campus) in 1972, and in his memory his family set up a fund on campus to prevent other students from doing the same.

Suicide is the third-leading cause of death for young adults ages 15 to 24 and is most likely to occur between ages 16 and 18. More females attempt suicide than males, but males are more likely to actually commit suicide. Suicide warning signs include people talking about suicide; being preoccupied with death; making statements about hopelessness, helplessness or worthlessness; and losing interest in things they used to care about.

Depressed people might suddenly become happier or calmer once they have decided on suicide and visit or call the people they care about and give things away in an attempt to set their final affairs in order.

The leading cause of suicide is mental illness. Mental illness can be triggered by many factors including genetics, the end of a relationship, a lack of self-esteem and drug use.

Boynton Health Service offers a free Mental Health Clinic for all University community members. Students, faculty and staff can call them at (612) 625-8475 for an urgent consultation. After normal business hours, Crisis Connection can be reached at (612) 379-6363 and the Suicide Hotline is (612) 374-2222.

I find it interesting that as we approach Suicide Awareness Month, the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions is supposed to be preparing to discuss the Wellstone Parity Bill. The bill would require all employers with more than 50 employees to provide mental-health insurance for all the disorders listed in the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,” which is what doctors use to make their mental-illness diagnoses.

The 1996 Health Parity Act eliminated the annual and lifetime limits for mental-health care that companies with more than 50 employees could impose on their staffs, but companies could continue to place limits on the number of outpatient visits and the number of days their employees could spend in inpatient care. The act was set to expire in 2002, when Congress voted to extend it for one year.

Last fall, Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., and Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., introduced the Wellstone Parity Bill, named after Minnesota’s late senator. The bill would extend the life of the Health Parity Act and make it harder to place restrictions on the number of doctor’s visits and days one can spend in the hospital. The Senate failed to take action on the bill before 2003 ended, but Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said his committee would continue to examine the bill. He should be urged to keep his promise. It is ridiculous that many people do not have mental-health insurance when we know that by treating mental illness we prevent suicide and save lives.

For more information on the “Show for Life,” go to www.tc.umn.edu/~rha. For more information on suicide awareness, go to www.save.org. For more information on Boynton’s Mental Health Clinic, go to www.bhs.umn.edu/services/mentalhealth.htm. For more information on the Wellstone Parity Act, go to www.wellstone.org or www.nmha.org.

R.R.S. Stewart welcomes comments at [email protected]