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Minnesota should take the lead on rebuilding mental health system

"Deaths of despair."

Overdoses. Alcohol. Suicide. They are causes of death that have been growing steadily for more than a decade, but they only take the spotlight as singular problems—"the opioid epidemic" or "a suicide outbreak."

That's a fallacy. The so-called "deaths of despair" are not disparate problems. They are manifestations of a lack of commitment to meaningful access to mental health care across the United States.

A study by The Commonwealth Fund found that 41 to 66 percent of American adults with symptoms of a mental illness from 2013 to 2015 received no treatment. Up to one-third of children in need of mental health treatment did not receive it, according to parents' reports in 2016.

Here's a sampling of the situation locally, and it's one we've reported on repeatedly:

— Central Minnesotans with mental health issues could find themselves in a detox facility, even if they're cold sober, because there's no place else for them to immediately go.

— If you live in middle Minnesota, access to care and treatment is a problem. It's not unheard of to have to drive 90 minutes or more each way to see a mental health care provider that is taking new patients or is "in network." And even when the care is available, paying for it is no sure thing.

— Public safety workers have become our mental health first responders, a role they shouldn't be asked to fill without significant increases in training and support.

The scary part? Minnesota is relatively good at mental health care.

And that's why we need to double down, not only to help our own, but to blaze the trail for success elsewhere.

There's precedent, after all. Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone's name is on a groundbreaking law that insured fairness in insurance for mental health and addiction treatment. He worked on the initiative for years.

It passed six years — six years ——after his death. How many deaths of despair occurred during those years?

Call on your lawmakers, your health care providers, your insurer and your community to get serious about building a system that provides prompt, effective access to mental health and addiction care in every community.

It will cost money. It will take effort.

But without it, we are losing too many treasures — and we don't mean fashion designers or celebrity chef/travelers, although they are significant losses.

We are losing our sons and daughters, moms and dads, friends and co-workers.

We can't afford to stay the course.

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