Home Tim Kaine ‘trying to understand’ dramatic shift in youth access to mental health care in Virginia
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Tim Kaine ‘trying to understand’ dramatic shift in youth access to mental health care in Virginia

Crystal Graham
teen girl with face in hands
(© Siphosethu Fanti/peopleimages.com – stock.adobe.com)

Suicide rates are on the rise, with more than half a million lives lost to suicide from 2011 to 2022. In 2022, there were the highest number of deaths by suicide on record, and within this period, the suicide rate increased nationwide by 16 percent. In Virginia, the increase was smaller, but still significant at 5 percent.

Suicide deaths reportedly slowed in 2019 and 2020 but began to increase again in 2021 and 2022. The cause for the rise is unknown. A number of suicides are also misclassified as drug overdoses or accidents so the true number of deaths by suicide is likely much, much higher than what is reported.

The increase in deaths by suicide coincides with the launch of the national 988 lifeline which aims to more easily connect those who are struggling with someone trained in crisis intervention. The impact of 988 on the suicide crisis will not likely be known for several years though it appears to be a step in the right direction.

Some stressors that could play a role in suicide include COVID, financial struggles and difficulty accessing mental health care.

In December 2022, Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin introduced his Right Help, Right Now plan to address youth mental health, but the results so far have been mixed.

Virginia ranks 48th in the nation in 2023 for youth access to mental health care. In 2022, Virginia ranked 21st.

“It’s clear that young Virginians face a myriad of challenges ranging from addictive social media platforms to an increasingly dangerous opioid epidemic to mental health challenges, and we need to offer support,” Youngkin said when introducing $500 million in new funding and a youth mental health strategy for the state which includes limiting social media platforms.

U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) said he is still trying to understand how Virginia’s ranking changed so dramatically in one year.

“Something happened with the administration or the legislature to cause that change,” Kaine said. “We need to get to the bottom of it.”

Kaine said legislators are aware of the problem and are focused on appropriations bills that would increase mental health funding to states.

“I think you’re going to see robust mental health funding and the appropriations bill that we’re going to do in the next month,” said Kaine. “There’s a portion of the federal budget called community-directed expenditures, where I go to bat for local initiatives around important priorities. And in the last couple of years, we’ve gone to bat significantly for mental health-related investments in many Virginia communities, mental health and substance use disorder investments.

“We’re working really hard to provide resources, and we clearly need to do more.”

If you or someone you know needs support now, call or text 988 or chat at 988lifeline.org

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Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.