State should raise awareness on mental health

It was in mid-October that Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale urged Keystone State residents to take advantage of available mental health services, at which time he also stressed the importance of improving mental health services at schools.

DePasquale’s statement, made in observance of World Mental Health Day, pointed out that “a recent report by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted a stunning 34 percent increase in Pennsylvania’s suicide rate between 1999 and 2016.”

The auditor general said that “most troubling, suicide is the second-leading cause of death among Pennsylvanians ages 15 to 34.”

It’s reasonable to suggest that the issue of mental health has been one of the topics on the minds of people in this state — indeed, throughout America — over the past couple of weeks in response to the bombs sent to prominent Democrats and, more recently, the horrific attack at a Pittsburgh synagogue on Oct. 27 that claimed 11 lives.

Anti-Semitism was at the root of the Pittsburgh attack by 46-year-old suspect Robert G. Bowers, and political fervor gone awry was the basis for 56-year-old suspect Cesar Altieri Sayoc’s bomb “campaign,” but questions nevertheless must exist about the suspects’ mental health.

Consider the possibility that the two suspects’ attorneys might construct insanity defenses, especially in Bowers’ case, where the death penalty almost certainly will be sought.

Obviously, people throughout the country –horrified, saddened and angry over what has taken place — will be watching how the two cases play out.

It’s too early to predict whether those paying attention to the proceedings now and in the months ahead will be further troubled or incensed by developments in the court cases, as the two defendants’ proceedings move forward.

But the gravity of that to which DePasquale called attention must not be lost amid the despicable incidents at which Bowers and Sayoc are at the center.

As the auditor general stressed, the recent Pennsylvania School Safety Task Force Report identified a need to improve mental health services offered to younger Pennsylvanians, in part to deal with the suicide issue from which they, of course, aren’t immune.

That’s also important as this state continues to reflect on the violence perpetrated by young people, and people not so young, at schools in this country over the past couple of decades — incidents that have claimed multiple lives, injured many others and changed the lives, for the worse, of many more.

It’s reasonable to ponder whether the incidents involving Bowers and Sayoc, built upon hate, could have been avoided, had they or someone close to them realized that they needed help from a mental health professional to deal with the troubling feelings and attitudes that they harbored.

No doubt their mental health will be evaluated fully, leading up to their trials.

Data from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention indicate that, on average, one Pennsylvania resident dies from suicide every four hours. Additionally, nearly three times as many people die each year of suicide than of homicide.

What an unthinkable toll, considering that so much help is available to those who seek it.

Going forward, Pennsylvania must be more committed than ever to emphasizing its mental health resources, to try to prevent as many additional tragedies as possible, both personal and those of a broader scale, such as what occurred in Pittsburgh.