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

Kate Spade

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.

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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Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 06/14/2018 - 12:42 pm.


    as the need for help is on the increase, insurance will pay for less of it, meaning that it will be less available to those who need it because that increased need affects the insurance company’s bottom line. To be as polite as possible, this phenomenon suggests a basic flaw in our medical care system.

    The relevant paragraph in “The Glean” is the second one, beginning with “Today in addressing the nation’s mental health crisis…”

  2. Submitted by Barry Peterson on 06/15/2018 - 02:09 pm.

    NIMH: Suicide 10th Leading Cause of Death in the U.S.

    As someone who has natural thoughts toward suicide when thinking of ways to work through heady and greatly upsetting issues, as I am an incredibly detailed and thorough thinker on all ways to manage both day-to-day healthy thoughts toward achievement, as well as thoughts toward ending the problem of recurring thought one and for all.

    This said, I refuse to accept suicide as a way of ending a strong sense of annoyance, and I have put much study into this area, and have spoken with a 50-year in service psychologist and several University of Minnesota psychiatrists over the past 20-years, I see the following is true:

    People think about ending their lives much more frequently than popular culture lets on in our daily dialog and expressions in news and entertainment. See the following:; and,

    Mental illness affects 1 in 5 American adults every year:

    The following 2004 research essay on both stigma as a diminishing matter where mental health is of concern, is a bright light to the 20% who feel that seeking mental health assistance will lead to greater stigma:

    I long ago gave up hiding in the dark about my experience with both bipolar-depression and what was called Asperger’s Syndrome, which may be why, at age 56-years, having been an office worker on a U.S. presidential campaign and adolescent years neighbor to the our former U.S. vice president who sought to continue to serve our national and international society in a valorous fashion, I am working with a great crew of young adults at a gourmet sandwich shop, but have been finding difficulty in find the money for advanced education and career job at pay that is equitable for a guy with 20+ years of formal education at public; and private K-12 schools in Hennepin and Ramsey County.

    As well, I studied at Elverum Folkehogskole,, a boarding school in Norway (with a trip to Krabbesholm Hojskole in Skive, Denmark). The Nordic culture is very democratic and focused on individual wellness, education, and productivity. My other alma maters include Macalester College (we had our 34th Class Reunion at Mac last weekend, and University of Minnesota. I also studied in Costa Rica through University of South Florida-Tampa, but given the stigma I’ve encountered, and the harsh life I’ve lived as police in this region said that because I was mentally ill (1988-1996), they would neither investigate nor arrest anyone on my behalf. Had they known that I was from a prominent neighborhood, their actions may have been different.

    But now, to today, I am pleased to say that I have interviewed several local and federal law enforcement agents and agencies to learn that what was once a very butch and condescending approach to “policing” people known or thought to have mental illnesses, the training has significantly changed, with a member of University of Minnesota’s Police Department (UMPD) dispatch team indicating that given the mental heath issues that so many of our veterans have experienced and bring home, UMPD, as well as Mnineapolis/Saint Paul/Bloomington Metropolitan Transit Police Department, Minneapolis Police Department, FBI, and Secret Service have now very effective and dedicated approach to work with people on the MI spectrum.

    I will close to a link to a radio show I was on at KFAI, on Tuesday, May 22, 2018 at 7:00 p.m. with an eminent Somali American leader and our friend and host, Abdizerak Bihi (often known as Bihi), in our attempt to calm people’s notions and taboos about both mental illnesses and Autism Spectrum Disorder. Bihi indicated that in the recent history of KFAI, the station hasn’t received as many positive calls and letters from their international audience as the segment that I was on.

    [Conversations were in English in a clear Midwestern accent among myself and the two Somali American leaders).

    Barry N. Peterson served on the Hennepin County Adult Mental Health Advisory Council (a regional Local Area Committee — or, LAC), from March 2012-March 2015, principally serving the policy and planning needs of the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners, and secondarily serving the Office of Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton. He has a B.A. in History, and has researched both diplomatic history, pediatric public health management problems in Costa Rica, and Asperger’s Syndrome (ASD)

  3. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 06/15/2018 - 02:50 pm.

    Lack money is the root of all evil

    At least when it comes to care for people with mental health and substance abuse. Virtually every medical condition, many with many fewer patients, has much more spent on treatment. If you want to understand, read this.

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