"For many months now Arizona's top focus has been public health," Ducey said from the gymnasium at Chandler USD's Hamilton High School. "We remain fully dedicated to these efforts, but protecting the well-being of our families and loved ones involves more than physical health; it involves mental health as well."
Ducey said nearly 1,500 Arizonans died by suicide in 2018. That is roughly one death by suicide every six hours across the state. Ducey said new national reports paint a "worrying trend" of increased symptoms of depression since COVID-19 closures began in March nationwide.
"Arizona is united in this effort together," Ducey said. "We are working collaboratively to ensure that no one falls through the cracks. That everyone has the mental health support and safety net that they need."
Ducey pointed out that some of those most vulnerable to suicide are the elderly, veterans and young people. Ducey also said that Arizona has been working on preventing suicides with recent legislation and funding dedicated to the issue.
On March 3, Ducey signed Jake's Law, which requires health care insurers to cover mental health without additional barriers—just like they would cover an annual physical.
Arizona published a suicide prevention action plan in January highlighting that death by suicide was the eighth leading cause of death among Arizonans in 2018. Among children ages 10-14, death by suicide is the leading cause of death in Arizona. The state in 2019 allocated $20 million for school safety grants that allowed schools and school districts to apply for financial support for counselors, social workers and school resource officers.
Ducey signed into law the Mitch Warnock Act in September 2019. The legislation, named after a Tempe teen who died by suicide, is intended to expand suicide awareness and prevention training in Arizona's public schools.
"This is an all-hands-on-deck collaboration," Ducey said.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman said the state has made progress in the area of suicide prevention in recent years, but she said there is still more to be done.
"One loss of life to suicide is one too many," Hoffman said.
Hoffman said it has been a difficult year for educators and for students, and that can feel isolating, especially during virtual learning.
"No student or educator is alone, and schools remain a safe place to talk with a trusted adult," Hoffman said. "Together we can reduce the stigma around mental health."
Ducey said it is imperative to know the signs of someone struggling with mental health and how to act. For more information visit www.azahcccs.gov/suicideprevention.
"If you are someone struggling with mental health, please know that you are never alone," Ducey said. "There is help, and there is hope. Together we can prevent suicide and look out for one another."
If you or someone you know is in need of mental health services, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.