Opinion: Iowa needs to increase investment into mental health

The Hawkeye State is one of the worst states for mental health. What can we do to improve?


Roman Slabach

The Old Capital from the roof of UIHC in Iowa City, Iowa on March 25, 2019.

Ally Pronina, Columnist

Iowa has a mental-health crisis, and we must do more to solve it.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, roughly 123,000 Iowans have a serious mental illness, and our state has about six times fewer beds in public mental-health facilities to treat them. Utah, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Kansas have about the same population as Iowa but four to eight times as many beds. Groups such as the Nation Alliance on Mental Health consistently rank Iowa in the bottom five states in all categories related to programs and services for mental illness. In July 2015, then-Gov. Terry Branstad vetoed a bill to restore services at hospitals in the Iowa towns of Clarinda and Mount Pleasant.

Iowa needs to fix its mental-health crisis so more Iowans with mental illnesses can get the help they need and deserve. It’s not fair for them to suffer just because the government doesn’t want to put in the needed money for mental-health services.

A mental illness can be just as lethal as a physical illness. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, suicide is the second leading cause of death among young adults in the U.S, and the overall suicide rate has increased by 31 percent since 2001. Forty-six percent of people who die by suicide have a diagnosed mental illness and twice as many exhibited symptoms of a mental illness.

All these statistics are heartbreaking and there are countless more. However, there are steps Iowa can take in fixing its mental-health crisis.

For starters, we need to increase the number of beds and facilities. That way, more of the people who need inpatient care will be able to get it. Another thing all Iowans can do to solve our mental-health crisis is to reduce the stigma. It is essential to make it easier for people with mental illnesses to communicate their struggles and get the courage to seek help. This isn’t specific to Iowa, but it can still go a long way in improving our standing in the country.

One way to reduce the stigma is Iowa public schools making learning about personality, mood, and eating disorders a part of their curriculum. Teenagers and young adults will be better equipped to help others with these disorders and themselves should they start to develop them.

The most important step is being more open to talking about mental health. It is a hard topic to talk about, but it’s even harder to live in silence with a mental illness. 

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.