HOLMBERG: It’s insane we don’t spend as much on mental health as physical health

Posted at 12:12 AM, Nov 07, 2015
and last updated 2015-11-07 00:13:34-05

PETERSBURG, Va. -- At about 11:40 Friday morning a 70-year-old man walked in the front door of J.T. Morris funeral home in Petersburg and left a piece of paper that had his next-of-kin written on it.

Then he walked back out and shot himself to death underneath a majestic oak tree that's still holding onto its leaves.

If he had done it at home or some other private place, it wouldn't have made the news.

Suicides are generally not reported, unless you're a celebrity, like Robin Williams.

That's why it's a silent killer. Roughly 30,000 people kill themselves each year. If you add in many of our accidental substance abuse fatalities, death by mental health misadventure is one of the main causes of death for almost all age groups.

And yet, we spend a tiny fraction on mental health care compared to physical health care.

The cost to society is staggering. Besides suicides, there have been all these mass killings, many other murders, missed work, and homelessness. Even things like drunk driving and spousal abuse can have a mental health component.

Our overfilled jails house many who couldn't get decent mental health treatment.

And as most of us know, our physical health is tied to our mental health.

You can drag your way through life with a bad knee or many other injuries and diseases, but a bad head can stop you cold.

Perhaps you remember the man who jumped off the Powhite Parkway Bridge and was dramatically rescued from the James River by helicopter.

I've talked and chatted online with him several times since. He shared how agonizing and difficult his illness was and is, how a shift in his situation or medication could leave him hopeless.

Now he's a paraplegic, living on his faith. Last time we chatted he was really struggling, but he wanted you to know there's always hope - don't give up.

The National Suicide Prevention hotline number is 800-273-8255. You can also call Virginia's National Alliance on Mental Illness at 888-486-8264.

Also, please touch base with the Suicide Prevention Resource Center.

You know, we can continue to pass small laws about restraining orders or emergency bed availability. But we really need to get our health care system in balance, spending equally on mental and physical health for research prevention and treatment.

Because I think mental health, really, weighs more heavily on our society.