The sponsor of mental health legislation said that issue hit close to home for her on the day her bill came to the House floor.
St. Charles Republican Chrissy Sommer said that during her drive to the Capitol on Monday she received the tragic news that the mother of her daughter’s best friend had committed suicide.
“You may have noticed I’m a little shaky and nervous, and the reason is because on my way here today I found out that a friend of mind committed suicide, and I’ve been thinking about her a lot,” said Sommer. “It really struck me that this [bill] was pulled up today … because it can affect everyone.”
The House gave initial approval to House Bill 108, which would have Missouri join the federal government in making May “Mental Health Awareness Month,” and in making July “Minority Mental Health Awareness Month.”
“I’m thinking of her and I’m doing this in her honor, and I hope that we will pass it … I don’t mean to get emotional … but I hope that we will pass this not only in her honor but in the honor of everyone who has lost someone to suicide,” said Sommer.
Sommer said untreated mental health contribute to things like unemployment, disability, homelessness, incarceration, substance abuse, and suicide.
“Early identification and treatment of mental illnesses have proven to be vital to any recovery process. Stigma association with mental illness prevents many individuals from seeking the necessary treatment,” said Sommer.
The House heard that there are particular stigmas and disparities within minority communities regarding mental health.
St. Louis Democrat Bruce Franks, who speaks openly about numerous traumas in his life including seeing his brother fatally shot when they were both children, said he has contemplated suicide in the past. He said there is a stigma in the African American community about getting help and what “mental health” is.”
“I talk on the floor about the funerals I’ve gone through and some of the things that I’ve seen, and even a couple of my Republican colleague friends on the other side have been to my district to see some of these traumatic things, so just imagine when folks are going through this each and every day and it plays on you mentally and you never get the help that you need because the people in your community and society sees this as a stigma,” said Franks.
Franks said the legislation is “very important, and it’s not just about an awareness month. It’s about education and empowering people to let them know it’s okay to not be okay but it’s okay to seek help.”
Jefferson City Republican Dave Griffith said he hopes raising awareness will cause more struggling veterans to get help.
“Many of you may not have heard ‘hashtag-22.’ Hashtag-22 stands for the 22 veterans that commit suicide every day. It is for real. These men and women are suffering from PTSD and from many other mental illnesses and having a day or a month that we can recognize them is something that I stand for,” said Griffith.
With the House’s action on Monday, one more favorable vote would send HB 108 to the Senate.