WASHINGTON — This September was National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, which is especially important to recognize this year as the coronavirus pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on Americans’ mental health whether from the increased economic anxiety or the emotional hardship of losing a loved one or not being able to visit family and friends.
Today, an estimated one in five Americans suffers from a mental health condition, and unfortunately this pandemic has only made this crisis worse. According to a recent survey, 53 percent of adults in the U.S. said that the pandemic has negatively affected their mental health. Even our troops have been affected, with one report from this month showing military suicides have increased by as much as 20 percent compared with the same period in 2019.
This is a challenging time, and now more than ever, it is critical that we support those battling mental health issues and addiction. Unfortunately, just as the need for mental health and addiction services has soared, 90 percent of community behavioral health organizations across the country have been forced to reduce their operations—limiting access to services, support and treatment just when people need it most.
That’s why I worked with Republican Sen. Todd Young of Indiana to introduce the Coronavirus Mental Health and Addiction Assistance Act, which would provide needed funding to create and expand services like support groups, telephone helplines and websites, telehealth and other outreach services. Our bill would increase access to mental health and addiction services during the pandemic and help ensure people can get the support they need.
I’ve also continued to urge my colleagues in the Senate to increase funding for existing mental health and addiction services by supporting the HEROES Act, which the House of Representatives passed in May. This critical legislation will provide significant additional resources for substance abuse prevention and treatment services across the country, including bolstering our suicide lifeline and disaster distress helplines. As we all continue battling this pandemic, it’s never been more important to ensure that the most vulnerable are getting access to the necessary support.
My own story is like a lot of families’ stories. Despite being a successful sports writer and columnist, my dad struggled with alcoholism when I was growing up. I saw him climb the highest mountains, but also sink to the lowest valleys. After three DWIs he finally got treatment and was —in his words — “pursued by grace.” Today, he’s 92 years old and sober. And he’s still friends with his Alcoholics Anonymous buddies!
And if we work together, and continue to support mental health and addiction services, we can ensure that so many more Americans have the opportunity to be “pursued by grace.”