From 2012 to 2016, more than 3,600 Oklahomans died from suicide. In 2018, Oklahoma was ranked tenth in the country in suicide deaths with more Oklahomans dying of suicide than motor vehicle crashes.
But it’s not just adults who are affected by suicide. According to a national survey from 2019, one in five adolescent school children in Oklahoma reported seriously thinking about suicide within the prior twelve months and one in nine reported actually attempting to take their own lives. As the father of six school-aged children, this statistic sickens me.
Many of our men and women in uniform who come back from warzones overseas face mental health struggles once they return. From 2006 to 2018, there were 3,863 self-inflicted deaths by members of our military on active-duty. In 2016 alone, 6,079 veterans died from suicide, including 110 in Oklahoma.
Every suicide is a tragedy and it is preventable. We must do everything we can to ensure people have the resources they need, which is why I have made improving access to mental health care a top priority in Congress.
Earlier this year, I introduced a bill to reauthorize and expand the Excellence in Mental Health Demonstration Program, which funds Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics (CCBHCs). CCBHCs have dramatically improved access to community-based mental health care. For example, Grand Lake Mental Health Center has electronic tablets in Grove Police Department patrol cars that can provide a direct, face-to-face link between a professional and a person in crisis. After an evaluation via tablet, police can divert the patient to a crisis center instead of an emergency room or jail. I worked to ensure that that this program was reauthorized and expanded so this vitally important work being done in our communities can continue.
We have made great strides as a country in ensuring our veterans have access to the help they need, but we can do better. Last year, the House passed the FIGHT Veteran Suicide Act, which will help track instances of veteran suicides and the Support for Suicide Prevention Coordinators Act, which will provide better support for those who work day in and day out to prevent this tragedy. When our veterans sign up for service, they commit to protecting the lives of all Americans. We must keep our commitment to them.
All of us must work together to prevent suicide and during National Suicide Prevention Week, we focus on informing people on how to prevent this tragedy. Check in on someone you may be concerned about and let them know you care. Listen to them, let them know they’re not alone and encourage them to seek help. This seemingly small act just might save their life.
If you or someone you know is experiencing thoughts of suicide, please know help is available. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).