This post is co-authored by Tyler Norris, MDiv, chief executive, Well Being Trust
It’s an impossible concept to fathom. Life expectancy in the United States has declined for the third year in a row, due largely to the alarming rise in suicide and opioid misuse. When we formed Providence St. Joseph Health in 2016, it wasn’t for the sake of getting bigger. We did it because we knew that some issues are too big to address on our own – mental health and substance use disorders being the biggest.
That’s why we identified this as an urgent issue and invested $130 million to establish Well Being Trust as a national foundation dedicated to advancing the mental, social and spiritual health of the country. Well Being Trust has made a significant impact in a short amount of time. The foundation has invested in more than 60 initiatives and built dozens of partnerships to address clinical and community needs, drive social engagement, investigate policies, change investments, and advance measures that matter. You can learn more about our progress here.
But there is still so much more to do. Well Being Trust leads ongoing research in collaboration with the Trust for America’s Health that punctuates the magnitude of the crisis, finding that more than 70,000 Americans died of a drug overdose in 2017 and more than 47,000 died of suicide. That’s up significantly compared to the year before.
Again, an impossible concept to fathom. If someone told you that 117,000 Americans were going to die this year of preventable causes, wouldn’t you consider that a national crisis? If this were Ebola, we would have declared a national state of emergency by now.
At Providence St. Joseph Health, we are not sitting idly by. We are committed to doing something about it. In each of our seven states, our regional leaders have set goals and developed action plans for reducing suicide and overdoses at the local level. This requires close partnerships with others in our communities, including social service agencies, police and fire departments, community development leaders, other health systems and the business community.
In the New Year, we will redouble our commitment to delivering improved mental health and well-being outcomes in our clinics and communities, and Well Being Trust will be our lead partner.
It will take a village – and each of us looking out for one another – to prevent these deaths. It will also require extra compassion, love and vigilance for family, friends and neighbors who may be struggling, especially right after the holidays when suicide rates tend to spike.
This commitment goes straight to the heart of our Mission. There is profound personal pain and vulnerability associated with mental illness and substance misuse. It touches all of us in one way or another – either because we are personally struggling with it or know someone who is. Together, we can be a catalyst for change and a source of hope, healing and love for one another, especially in times of greatest need.