Ask the Candidates!

Vote for Mental Health This Election Season to Reduce Suicide in Virginia!

On November 5, 2019, Virginia voters will cast their ballots to fill all 140 seats in the Virginia General Assembly. As a Commonwealth, we will elect 100 members to the House of Delegates and 40 members to the State Senate.  Are you registered to vote?  The deadline to register to vote in Virginia is October 15.  Click here to learn more about registering.

NAMI Virginia is partnering with Mental Health America of Virginia and VOCAL to ask all General Assembly candidates to answer three questions which solicit their positions on policies we believe will reduce the incidence of suicide in Virginia. We urge all Virginians to ask these questions of the candidates running for their House and State Senate seats. Know their positions, and #Vote4MentalHealth in Virginia!   We are posting their responses on this page between now and November 5.

 The Problem

The incidence of suicide in Virginia has grown continuously over the last two decades, and the state’s suicide rate increased by more than 16% from 2012 to 2018 alone.[1]  Lack of access to behavioral healthcare increases the risk of death by suicide.  However, too many Virginians – even those with health insurance – report they are unable to access needed mental health care.  According to Mental Health America, Virginia ranks 40th of the 50 states in overall access to mental health care, and 47th of 50 in access to care for children and youth.  This is a dismal statistic for a state which ranks among the top 10 wealthiest in the nation.

The immediate availability of firearms to an individual experiencing a mental health crisis increases the risk of death from suicide. In Virginia – and nationally – the majority of suicides are completed with a firearm.[2]  Even more alarming, this is also true for youth ages 10-19 who die by suicide.[3]

The Solutions

Suicide is a devastating loss to individuals, families and communities. We believe that expanding access to mental health and addiction treatment, enforcing parity for mental health insurance, and temporarily removing firearms from individuals at risk of dying by suicide are three common-sense policies that will reduce the number of suicides in our state.

Three Questions We’re Asking the Candidates

This election season, NAMI Virginia, MHAV and VOCAL are asking all General Assembly candidates the following three questions.  We urge all Virginians to ask the candidates these questions as well.  Not sure who your legislator is, or who the candidates are?  To find your legislator, visit the Virginia General Assembly’s Who’s My Legislator? website.  To find the candidate(s) running in your House of Delegates or State Senate district, visit the Virginia Public Access Project’s election website.  Our three questions are as follows.

Question 1.  What is your position on increasing state funds to expand access to community-based care in the public behavioral health system?

Background:  The public behavioral health system serves the most vulnerable children, youth and young adults in Virginia – those who are living near or below the poverty level who often have the most intensive need for services.  In Virginia, funding for our public system is overly weighted towards hospital-based care as compared to other states.[4]  Increasing access to community-based care reduces the risk that an individual will experience a mental health crisis, and we believe this reduces the risk of suicide as well.  We support full funding for Virginia’s public behavioral health system so individuals and families across the state can get the help, hope and support they need. 

Question 2.  Do you support expanded enforcement of federal mental health parity laws in Virginia?

Background:  The federal Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, originally passed in 2008 and strengthened by the Affordable Care Act, requires most private health insurance plans to offer equal access to mental health and addiction treatment as they do to physical healthcare. In Virginia, the Bureau of Insurance is responsible for enforcing the law. Most Americans have private health insurance, generally through an employer-offered health plan, but many Virginians report difficulty in getting mental health care covered.  According to recent research, more than a third of Virginians in need must seek mental health and addiction care outside their health plan’s network, which increases costs to them or results in no treatment at all. We urge the Northam Administration, through the Bureau of Insurance, to enforce parity requirements to expand access to care and reduce suicide risk.

Question 3.  What is your position on Extreme Risk Protection Orders in Virginia?

Background:  In 2017 in Virginia, 65% of firearm deaths were suicides, and 57% of Virginia suicides that year were completed with a firearm.  Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPO), also referred to as “red flag” or risk warrants, allow law enforcement, mental health professionals, or family members to file a petition with the courts to temporarily remove and prohibit the possession or purchase of firearms from individuals at high risk of harm to self or others. Evidence from at least two states suggests that the use of ERPO has reduced the incidence of suicide in at least two states.[5]  

Candidate responses last updated 10/10/2019 at 12:15 PM

 

References:

[1] United Health Foundation (2018). America’s Health Rankings, Suicide in Virginia.

[2] Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence (2018).  Firearm Suicide in Virginia.

[3] Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (2019).  Virginia Violent Death Reporting System.

[4] Presentation by Acting Commissioner Mira Signer, Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services,  to the General Assembly’s Joint Subcommittee to Study Mental Health Services in the 21st Century, September 23, 2019.

[5] Swanson, J. W., Easter, M. M., Alanis-Hirsch, K., Belden, C. M., Norko, M. A., Robertson, A. G., & Parker, G. F. (2019). Criminal Justice and Suicide Outcomes with Indiana’s Risk-Based Gun Seizure Law. The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law.