Indiana is in the middle of a mental health crisis.
As of last year, our state ranked 43 in the nation for mental health among adults, meaning we have more mental illnesses and less access to care than the majority of the country. In addition to that sobering statistic, a recent report found that nearly 50% of Hoosier students in high school report feeling persistently sad or hopeless. That’s the highest percentage in a decade. Of those students, nearly 30% also reported that they have seriously considered suicide.
Indiana is without a doubt experiencing a crisis, and it is unfortunately coinciding with Indiana’s severe school staff shortage which has resulted in our state having, on average, only one counselor for every 694 Hoosier students—far more than the recommended ratio of one counselor to every 250 students.
Mental health and addiction issues also have a substantial impact on maternal mortality. According to a 2022 study, maternal mental health contributed to 28% of all pregnancy-associated deaths in 2020, and substance use disorders contributed to 46% of pregnancy deaths.
What we are seeing in our state is a rising need for care being met with an extreme lack of access. On behalf of Hoosiers, our state must act to curtail this crisis. That’s why Senate Democrats have remained persistent in calling for increased mental health support and why we were pleased to see a bipartisan effort to address declining mental health in our state during the 2023 session.
Senate Enrolled Act 1 was the most substantial mental health policy passed in recent years, and our caucus happily supported its adoption into law. Despite the successful passage of this proposal, however, Republicans inexplicably chose to underfund the measure in the budget. The Behavioral Health Commission requested $130 million annually to fund the mental health needs of Indiana residents; the budget allocated $100 million over the biennium.
When experts tell us exactly how much is needed to address a critical issue like mental health in our state, and elected officials choose to underinvest, we can only expect that some people will slip through the cracks. That’s why Senate Democrats fought repeatedly to fully find SEA 1, and why we introduced other bills and amendments to expand critical support in Indiana.
We fought for more funding for public education to help address staff shortages, introduced legislation to support mental health days for students and worked to expand eligibility for mental health care. Next session, we will be putting forward more bills to expand and boost care for Hoosiers in need, because we know meaningful support is critical at this time.
Despite the roadblocks we’ve encountered in the Republican-controlled Legislature, SEA 1 is proof that we can come together to prioritize the needs of citizens and pass good policy.
In honor of Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, our caucus vows to continue our advocacy to make Indiana a healthier and more supportive state for every one of our residents. In this time of rising mental health struggles, we want Hoosiers to know they are not alone and the fight to connect them with critical care, wherever they live, is unwavering and ongoing.
*We urge Hoosiers considering suicide or experiencing a mental health crisis to contact the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline for immediate support day or night.