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Maricopa County to create crisis resources as it seeks ways to improve mental health

The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors is discussing ways of improving the mental well-being of citizens in Maricopa County.

As September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, the County intends to create additional crisis resources and open the conversation regarding the importance of suicide awareness.

According to the official website of the City of Phoenix, the mayor and city council approved a $15 million operating budget for the expansion of the Fire Department Community Assistance Program by building nine behavioral health units and doubling the number of Crisis Response Units from 5 to 10 "to meet the needs of Phoenix residents experiencing a mental health crisis.”

Jen Pokorski, Maricopa County Manager, and Juanita Garza, Clerk of the Board, alongside five board members addressed the escalating concerns surrounding mental well-being in the county, which has seen an alarming increase in recent years.

The board said mental health is defined as taking care of ourselves and others and that includes looking after our well being not just physically but emotionally and mentally.

“Suicide is one of the top nine leading causes of death for people ages 10 to 64 and the second leading cause of death for ages 10 to 14 and 20 through 34,” said Juanita Garza. As for speaking nationally, one death occurs in the United States every 11 minutes according to the Federal Communications Commission.

At the forefront of their agenda stood the endorsement of the proclamation designating the month of September as a month dedicated to increasing awareness for mental health resources and suicide prevention services available in the Maricopa County.

District 5 Supervisor Steve Gallardo said when it comes to mental health, public schools often are strapped for cash. “The first things unfortunately that get cut are counselors, social workers, and experts,” Gallardo said.

A study from the 2020 pandemic shows that out of 1,181 high school aged students surveyed, 40% struggled with their mental health throughout the pandemic and 36% noted their overall mental decline according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

With this new proclamation, Arizona is attempting to implement more options for mental health services across school districts and health centers in Maricopa County to provide better resources.

Mike Peterson, an attendee who has volunteer experience for the suicide prevention hotline, voiced his support for the proclamation, but further proposed that the optimal time to promote anti-suicide campaigns would be December.

Drawing from first hand experience, Peterson described his work at the crisis hotline to be “bleak and miserable” particularly during the holiday season. Peterson said that New Year’s Day tends to have the highest suicide rate which is why December would be more effective.

Peterson highlighted the concerning trend stating the economy and the job market is the number one driver of adult suicide and this distressing influence is now adversely impacting the well-being of children.

In closing remarks, Chairman Clint Hickman responded to Peterson’s assertion stating, “More than likely we will be talking about this topic in the holidays because we do understand the holiday times are the most joyous times for some family members and the worst for others.”

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