Editorials

We have to face our fears and talk about mental illness if we want to save people we love

It is an all-too familiar story.

Kate Spade, a famous fashion designer, took her own life. We, like so many others, were shocked, stunned.

Suicide just didn't make sense given her cheerful, cheeky public persona.

Over and over, people said, "but, she had it all." Obviously, they were wrong.

Something was missing from her life. She was mentally ill. And she felt she couldn't ask for help. She had to be strong. She couldn't let the public see she was in pain. She self-medicated.

Self-medicating doesn't work. If it did, suicide would not be the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.

People think nothing of going to a doctor for physical aches and pains. We seek treatment for a common cold. An allergy. A sprain.

And yet, those who need treatment for depression and other illnesses are blinded by a fear of the stigma of admitting they have a mental illness.

Each of us must help remove that stigma. We must learn the signs of depression and other common mental illnesses. If you have a sadness that lingers, if you continually feel tired, worn down, please see a health professional. Perhaps it is nothing, a passing phase. If so, there's no harm done. If it turns out you need help, you may have saved your life.

And be truthful with your friends and relatives. Don't be afraid. Confide.

And be truthful with them if you notice a change in their behavior, something as little as they don't seem like themselves. It may not be something so little.

And the government must do a better job of caring for those with mental illnesses who can't afford care.

Unfortunately, in Mississippi, we are headed in the opposite direction.

According to ProPublica, the number of state-funded psychiatric beds dropped from 1,156 in 2010 to 486 at the end of last year. The Department of Mental Health's budget is not keeping up with the cost of treating the mentally ill. The department cut 650 jobs last year, and its turnover rate is just below 50 percent.

As a result, too many mentally ill people are in jails that are ill-equipped to deal with mental health issues.

So, the state once again has the attention of the federal government, which investigated the system. It did not like what it found. And that could be costly. Georgia, for example, was hit with a $200 million federal lawsuit.

That would be familiar territory for Mississippi. In the Olivia Y case, a class action suit named for a Waveland girl uncovered numerous horror stories at the Department of Human Services. The state is still trying to live up to its end of the settlement under the direction of federal court. Now, advocates for children want the court to take the relatively new Child Protection Services away from the state.

We urge the state to straighten up the mental health system before the federal government has to step in again. But if it fails to act, we would welcome federal intervention.

And keep this number — 1-800-273-8255 — handy. It's the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. You never know when you or someone you love might need it.

The editorial represents the views of the Sun Herald editorial board. Opinions of columnists and cartoonists are their own.
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