Addressing deaths due to despair


WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) So many factors contribute to a person’s well-being or lack of it. For more than 150-thousand Americans a year, that lack of well-being leads to deaths of despair.

The findings show that alcohol, drugs and suicide are taking a fairly consistent toll on our communities.

Dr. Ben Miller, PsyD is Chief Strategy Officer for the national foundation Well Being Trust.

Dr. Miller told Eyewitness News, “The good news is that some of what we are doing is making a difference. The bad news is the numbers are still too high.”

Kathy Wallace, VP of Northeast Suicide Prevention Initiative, pointed to problems in getting care to individuals in need saying, “It’s expensive to go to therapy. It really is.”

Nearly 152,000. That’s how many Americans died from alcohol, drugs and suicide in the most recent data from 2018 obtained by the organizations Trust in America’s Health and Well Being Trust.The numbers are fairly stagnant even though the findings show less prescription opioid abuse deaths than the previous year.

“The good news is that some of what we are doing is making a difference. The bad news is the numbers are still high,” said Miller.

Dr. Ben Miller points to glaring numbers surrounding deaths of despair in communities of color.

“One of the things that we call out in the report is that this country has profound disparities that are only exacerbated in times of crisis like what we see right now,” said Miller.

As the pandemic and political unrest feed into despair, Dr. Miller says now is not the time for a “one size fits all” approach to prevention and treatment. 

“You can’t simply have one strategy and expect it’s going to impact on all communities. Each community needs to have its own tailored response,” said Miller.

“Historically, people of color don’t go for as much counseling because there’s not a lot of counselors or therapists of color,” said Wallace.

While citing a lack of financial resources to address the problem, Kathy Wallace acknowledges a growing and productive alternative.

“I see support groups as a benefit because they’re free. They’re usually free,” said Wallace.

Dr. Miller says the latest report makes several recommendations including reducing risk factors of despair and limiting access to lethal means of suicide. But, ultimately he says it comes down to proper funding. 

“We’ve not put the adequate resources in dollars behind those things that we know can prevent us from ultimately losing a loved one and that requires a lot of thought, leadership and effort,” said Miller.

Dr. Miller point out that in the $2 trillion CARES Act only about .2 percent was targeted for mental health – funding he describes as “budget dust.”

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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