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Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain and Minnesota’s rising suicide rate: Now is the time for a better mental health system

If there is a glimmer of hope amid terrible news, it’s that people are talking about mental health. And where there is conversation, there is hope that more awareness and understanding of mental health is coming.

Kate Spade
REUTERS/Chip East

Last week, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, two of the most brilliant minds and personalities in their respective industries, died by suicide. Also last week, we learned that the suicide rate in Minnesota continues to increase – in fact, it’s up 40.6 percent over an 18-year period. The statistics show a similar upward trend in all states except Nevada.

Jill Wiedemann-West

Although tragedies like these are unfortunately not a new phenomenon to those who work in the mental health field, including me, let’s acknowledge that last week was an especially tough one. Be it a handbag designer, a celebrity chef or one of the 745 Minnesotans who died by suicide in 2016, suicide is always a tragic loss that touches so many.

These tragedies remind us that we all have mental health, and that mental illness does not discriminate based on gender, race, career or socioeconomic status. We’re all navigating a system filled with silos, gaps in the continuum of care and a dizzying amount of coordination to access mental health treatments. And that’s if you have halfway decent health insurance, support from family and friends, a stable living environment, and the mental fortitude to forge through this maze while you’re at your lowest low.

Failing those who need help the most

If you’re one of the many who do not have these, the situation is even bleaker. In 1999, then U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher called suicide “a significant public health problem.” That was nearly 20 years ago. Today, it’s more than a public health problem – it’s a public health crisis. As a health care system and as a society, we’re failing the people who need help the most.

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If there is a glimmer of hope amidst this terrible news, it’s that people are talking about mental health. High-profile actors and athletes are opening up about their own struggles. People are taking to social media to share their thoughts on Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain’s passings. In homes and around water coolers across the country, people are engaging in conversations about mental health. And where there is conversation, there is hope that more awareness and understanding of mental health is coming.

Beyond awareness and understanding, there is also a growing urgency to take action and build a better mental health care system for all. Those of us in the mental health field have been working to do just that. Today, I’m confident that those who don’t work in mental health are beginning to feel that same urgency. Now is the time to do better by those experiencing mental illness. Now is the time to better help those individuals’ families and friends who are trying to support them. Now is the time for our local community and systems to better understand and provide care.

Ways to help yourself and other Minnesotans

How? If you or someone you know needs immediate help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. If you’re seeking mental health treatment, have a conversation with your primary care doctor, who should be able to connect you to specialists and resources for your situation. You can also contact a number of mental health care providers in Minnesota including People Incorporated

And if you’d like to help build a better mental health system for Minnesotans, consider volunteering your time or contacting People Incorporated or other mental health care agencies on how you can make a difference. Because now is the time for us all to come together as a community to improve the mental health access and care for all, and we need your help.

Jill Wiedemann-West is the CEO of People Incorporated, Minnesota’s largest community based provider of mental health services.

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