Deb Fischer

Fischer is the senior U.S. senator from Nebraska.

Mental illness is a disease similar to any other. It’s not something you can will your way into healing or simply wait for it to pass. For many, their disease ebbs and flows, and often strikes when they might least expect. For others, it remains an ever-present, unhealed wound.

This year, from Oct. 6 through Oct. 12, Nebraskans and people across our country will unite to demonstrate their support for Mental Illness Awareness Week. Together, we can change perceptions and end the stigma associated with mental illness.

Psychological illnesses are among the most widespread health conditions in the United States — and the numbers are daunting. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 50 percent of Americans will be diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder at some point in their lifetime. One in 25 adults in the United States lives with a serious mental illness, and 1 in 5 people will experience a mental illness in a given year.

Last year, I was proud to support legislation that was enacted into law and took important steps to address this issue in our state.

The bill, H.R. 6157, authorized $10 million to the U.S. Department of Education to carry out a mental health pilot program. The program tests and evaluates partnerships between universities and state and local education agencies to train school counselors and other mental health professionals for placement in public school systems that serve low-income communities.

This legislation also provided $1 million to the Health Resources and Services Administration to carry out the Telehealth Network Grant Program, which funds awards to schools to train and support teachers, school counselors and other staff to assist students with mental health needs.

Authorized in the 2018 farm bill, which I helped craft as a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, was $10 million for each fiscal year beginning in 2019 through 2023 to fund the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network. The network provides our agricultural community with critical mental health support and resources. This could not have come at a better time, as our farmers, ranchers and ag producers have been recovering from the devastating effects of the severe flooding last spring.

I also want to highlight a bill that would take actions to improve mental health for our nation’s veterans: the bipartisan Support for Suicide Prevention Coordinators Act, introduced by Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska.

Suicide is a major issue affecting our nation’s veterans. In 2018, the Department of Veterans Affairs identified this as its No. 1 clinical priority. According to the National Suicide Data Report, there were 424 veteran suicides in Nebraska from 2005 to 2016 — an average of over 35 per year. There were 27 suicides in 2016, the last year data is available.

Sen. Sullivan’s legislation would direct the U.S. Government Accountability Office to assess the responsibilities, workload, training and vacancy rates of suicide prevention coordinators.

After learning more and reading the many letters of support for this bill from Nebraskans, I became a co-sponsor. This common-sense measure takes important steps to ensure the VA has the tools and resources it needs to provide mental health resources for veterans.

To any Nebraskan who is struggling with a mental illness, please know you are never alone. You are not a burden to anyone, and professionals are waiting to give you the assistance you need. And you should never feel shame or embarrassment from a recognition that you could benefit from mental health services. In fact, it is the exact opposite — it’s a sign of inner strength and courage.

Scripture tells us that the evils intended to harm us can be used to save many lives. I hope every Nebraskan who may feel ashamed of a mental illness understands that sharing your challenges can help you manage your pain — and bring hope and healing to many others.

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