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Connecticut nonprofit works to increase state's mental health resources

Elaine with Grey Cats
Mental health services like counseling are among the resources Connecticut provides to combat rising suicide rates.

Even though it ranks among the lowest suicide rates in the nation and the highest in mental health resources, Connecticut is still seeing significant increases in suicides, but Mental Health Connecticut is one of the nonprofits working to change that.

Luis Perez is president and CEO of Mental Health Connecticut, a statewide nonprofit that, for over a century, has worked to implement resources for Connecticut citizens to use to live mentally healthier lives. He spoke to us this week on "Take Care."

Connecticut ranks number 46 in the U.S. in suicide rates, but between 1999 and 2018, it saw an increase of more than 19 percent, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It also has suicide prevention programs statewide and stringent gun control laws.

Perez said that even though Connecticut often ranks in the top 10 states for resources available for mental health conditions, there is an unequal distribution of those prevention and mental health programs that is sometimes overlooked.

“Being number one among other states puts us in a position of sometimes feeling complacent in that we’re doing well, but the reality is that the services are not sufficient, and access to those services has been diminishing,” Perez said.

In areas where there is a high population density, Connecticut residents have a wide selection of physicians and other resources to improve their mental health, Perez said, but in areas with less population concentration, there are not enough personnel to provide the same coverage.

Perez said that another issue with being ranked low in suicide rates among other states is that the data is generally unreliable. The “soft” data of suicide, he said, means that many suicides can go unreported, mistaken as other causes of death, so the problem may be larger than the data suggests.

However, Connecticut residents are at an advantage, Perez said, because the state is ahead in its approach to mental health as a whole issue.

“Everything is relative,” Perez said. “Better access doesn’t mean that we have 100 percent access, but we are ahead in terms of being able to address the mental health needs of an individual.”

One area Perez said could use improvement is the education of minors, which he said can go a long way in improving the general approach to what many regard as a sensitive issue. In addition, he said it can help children to deal with disappointment and tragedy later in life and have a healthy relationship with their own emotions.

“We need to do a better job of educating children because as we normalize those feelings and talk about them, they’re able -- at an appropriate developmental level -- [to] talk about those feelings and be able to express them,” Perez said.