Efforts expand access to mental health and suicide resources

Greetings from your Missouri Capitol on this warm July morning. I sincerely hope you are staying cool and enjoying our summer in Missouri and taking time to spend time with your family, enjoying so many activities and places right here in Jefferson City.

It has been some time since I have communicated with you through this medium, and it has been a busy summer filled with many meetings and conversations with many of you. There are a few things I wanted to share with you, and this will be my last column until after the general election in November, per protocol with the News Tribune.

Missouri has received good news again as the latest jobs report shows Missouri’s unemployment rate hit an all-time high. The state’s unemployment rate fell to 2.8% in June, which is Missouri’s lowest rate since the data series began in 1976.

Missouri was previously at 3.1% unemployment for the month of May, but saw nonfarm payroll employment rise by 5,300 jobs from May to June. This increase caused the unemployment rate to fall by three tenths of a percent. Compared to this time last year, Missouri saw an increase of 65,500 jobs. The June 2021 unemployment rate was 4.4, 1.6 percentage points higher than the current rate. Missouri’s unemployment rate has been at or below the national rate for the past five years.

As many of you know, I have been chairman of the veterans affairs committee for the past three years, and I approached the Speaker of the House at the end of the last session and asked if I could chairing an interim committee dealing with veterans mental health issues, health and suicide. He endorsed the committee and assigned seven of my colleagues to the committee, and we will hold our first of four hearings from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday in Hearing Room 7. I have invited subject matter experts from different agencies of State and private partners to share their reflections and best practices to solve these two problems.

Missouri ranks first in veteran suicides, and I hope we can discuss this issue head-on and make progress to significantly reduce the number of suicides and give local communities and families the tools they need. to recognize the signs of suicide and to start a discussion about the mental health issues facing so many in our society today. At the end of these hearings, we will produce a document that will be distributed to all legislators to take back to their respective districts and hopefully make a difference in the lives of veterans and their families.

Along the same lines, there is a new resource available that will address mental health and suicide across the state. The 9-8-8 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is now available in Missouri. Missourians experiencing a mental health crisis, suicidal thoughts or addictions can now call 9-8-8 to receive compassionate and accessible care and support. The 988 number routes callers to the existing National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which provides free and confidential emotional support 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

During the 2022 legislative session, the Missouri House and Senate approved approximately $30.5 million in funding to implement the new 988 Crisis Hotline. The Governor signed this funding and the new system officially started operating on July 16.

The 988 line will be the first step to involving people in behavioral health crisis. There are seven crisis centers in Missouri tasked with responding to the state’s 988 contacts. Trained crisis specialists at each center will listen, work to understand how the individual’s issues affect them, provide support and connect them to resources. Crisis Specialists will also have the ability to dispatch Mobile Crisis Response Teams for additional crisis response wherever the crisis is occurring in the community and based on the needs of the individual.

The director of the Missouri Department of Mental Health said the department “takes this opportunity to advance current crisis services toward an evidence-based continuum of care, ready to provide high-quality behavioral health services across providing consistent care and support in a crisis will be integral to reducing the burden and misuse of law enforcement/emergency response and other public health services.”

Although 988 is a national initiative, it is up to each state to ensure that emergency services are available to everyone, anywhere, anytime. After nearly two years of planning and preparation, Missouri’s 988 centers are primed and ready to respond to the projected 253,000 contacts (calls, texts and chats) expected in the first year of 988 implementation.

For more information about 988 in Missouri, please visit https://dmh.mo.gov/behavioral-health/988-suicide-and-crisis-lifeline.

Missourians facing a crisis who need immediate help can contact 988 by calling or texting, or chatting at https://988lifeline.org/

I enjoyed sharing with you many of the activities and legislation that my colleagues and I worked on during the last session, and I hope to be able to represent you in the next session and beyond. In the meantime, if my office can be of assistance to you, please do not hesitate to contact me. As I have said many times, it is truly an honor to serve as your state’s representative.

State Representative Dave Griffith, R-Jefferson City, represents Missouri’s 60th District.

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