Mental Illness Suicide Prevention

Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health, Human Services & Related Agencies

Statement by Laurie Flynn, Executive Director, National Alliance for the Mentally Ill

Jan 08 2000

Arlington, VA - NAMI is grateful to Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) for his leadership in holding today’s hearing and that of Senator Harry Reid (D-NV). We commend Dr. David Satcher, the Surgeon General, for his Call to Action to Prevent Suicide, published last year, along with his recent Report on Mental Health—the first in the nation’s history. We also commend Dr. Steven Hyman, Director of the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH), who has contributed important leadership by recognizing early-on that suicide today is a public health crisis; making scientific research in the area a priority; and demanding that research also be translated into practice.

Every year, approximately 30,000 Americans commit suicide: the eighth-leading cause of death overall; and the third-leading cause of death among young people, ages 15 to 24. Ninety percent of all people who take their own lives suffer from severe mental illnesses. Suicide occurs because of biological factors in the brain that distorts rational thinking. It does not result from lack of character or courage. Yet ignorance and stigma endure. It was offensive and alarming—but sadly illustrative—when Governor Jesse Ventura last year declared that people who commit suicide are "weak and feeble-minded" and that he doesn’t "have time" for them. Fortunately, Senator Specter and Senator Reid do. Brain disorders can be treated, and treatment works--but only if you get it.

We need more public education about mental illness. We need more interventions. We need more scientific research. We need more access to treatment. Danielle Steel has declared: "If you let a bad cold turn into bronchitis and then pneumonia, without medication, it can kill you. If you do not treat serious diabetes, it can kill you. If mental illness goes untreated, it can kill you. People need to know that, so they get the appropriate care." We also need leadership marked by a courage and compassion. Professor Kay Jamison recently noted: "We’ve got to have the President of the United States saying look we’ve got a real epidemic here, and there’s something we can do about it. People are dying from not gaining access to treatment." We need governors to say it too, along with legislators and other leaders, at every level of society. We must invest resources to change a mental healthcare system that is in crisis. We need to start saving people’s lives now.