Akron Beacon Journal

 

Ohio has more than an addiction crisis. It has a suicide problem. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of Ohioans taking their own lives increased 36 percent from 1999 to 2016. The state cites an increase of 14 percent from 2014 to 2017. Roughly five Ohioans per day die from suicide. If young women commit suicide at a higher rate than in the past, the largest numbers are among middle-aged men.

These disturbing figures help to explain Mike DeWine including in his two-year state budget plan $36 million for prevention programs aimed at students, kindergarten through grade 12, plus media campaigns on mental health and addiction for a wider audience. The House saw the strong case and kept the funding in its budget plan. The Senate then removed the money.

The conference committee now addressing differences between the two versions has a responsibility to include the sum in the final budget sent to the governor. Leave the money out, and the state signals it isn’t interested in doing all that it practically can to address the challenges in mental health and addiction.

There may be a temptation to think the state would do well enough with the $550 million the governor proposed in wraparound services for at-risk students, including access to primary health care and after-school programs. As it is, wraparound services respond to the trauma of severe poverty. The mental health and addiction initiatives involve the broader sweep of all students. When children and their families have a better understanding of mental illness, they are more likely to seek treatment, leading to improved lives today and for the long run.

It matters, too, that experts report almost half of all mental health conditions begin before age 14.

There also may be a tendency to see a media campaign as unnecessary, reflecting the view that a stigma, or prejudice, no longer attaches to mental illness and addiction as in the past. Yet a substantial prejudice still is there, often manifested in shame, even as 1 in 5 suffer from mental illness. Not enough people seek the treatment they need.

More, the record reveals that well-conceived public health campaigns yield the desired results. Consider the successes involving seat belts, drunken driving and even flu shots. The logic is persuasive: Diminish the prejudice, and more people seek treatment, leading to a lower rate of suicide. The state would launch proven, evidence-based campaigns, targeted at specific audiences, where suicide rates are highest. For instance, Colorado has experienced gains from its Man Therapy campaign, designed to help men face mental health conditions.

In that way, the overall purpose of the funding goes to equipping individuals, family members, friends and others with a heightened awareness and skills to address mental illness. The investment would encourage partnerships in communities, say, between schools and mental health professionals. It also would support providers in upgrading their skills. These are the linkages the governor seeks to encourage, state dollars targeted precisely at problems.

In testimony at a Senate hearing last month, Lori Criss, the director of the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, reminded that prevention “is an often overlooked but important component of the full continuum of care.” Prevention is the purpose of the $36 million, and as with most preventive measures, net savings come down the road, in the form of healthier lives, fewer resources dedicated to recovery and repair.

That is what the governor and a bipartisan majority of the House embraced. It remains a puzzle why the Senate didn’t follow. The funding belongs in the budget plan that lands on the governor’s desk.