BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) — Tuesday is Behavioral Health Day in Louisiana and mental health advocates took to the Capitol steps to share the importance of mental health and suicide prevention.

“According to NAMI, over 52 million people living in the United States are estimated to be living with a mental illness. The National Institute of Health, notes that suicide is the tenth leading cause of death,” said Assistant Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health Karen Studs.

“It doesn’t discriminate against age or race. It crosses all cultures,” continued Melissa Silva the Executive Director of the Louisiana Mental Health Association.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for ages 10 through 24. Mental health advocates made their case at the state Capitol today, pushing lawmakers to prioritize treatment and resources.

Studs said the bills this session are just the start of addressing this crisis.

“We have several other processive bills working through the process right now. We have one waiving certain criminal background for peers to practice which doesn’t go all the way but it’s a start to getting us where we need to go. We have a bill removing the prohibition on fentanyl test strips as drug paraphernalia and we also have a bill expanding access to community base mental health by allowing for the first time in Medicaid provisionally licensed mental health professionals to provide counseling and get reimbursed at a standard proportionate to their education attainment.”

State Rep. Larry Bagley said, “We will add, try to add, telehealth and add counselors and guidance people on the telehealth group so if you have a problem at home you will be able to do that.”

Ruby Noble with Louisiana Mental Health Coalition explained more bills that are taking action against mental illness and depression.

“House bill 495, Representative Slagle, authorizes training on student safety and violence and social isolation prevention, allows student form and led, student-led clubs focus on these issues. Another bill by Rep. Duplessis would authorize mental health instructions in schools. Testing of expecting mothers for mood disorder healthy mothers. Healthy children. Senate Bill 77, Senator Luneau insures access to antipsychotic medications for persons with schizophrenia and in psychosis. House Bill 746, improves the process of solitary confinement of youth with mental illness in locked–up facilities.”

One victim of depression shared her story about losing everything, including her kids and her freedom. She said she wanted to end her life because of depression.

“Today, I am somebody. I have been incarcerated, that was the first time I had my mental diagnosis, I had lost my sister. I was in jail and I didn’t know what to do, I snapped. No one knew what to do, they was just like here take this, I didn’t know what I was taking but I did know I did not like the feeling that I was feeling. I am in compliance with my medication and I am doing okay today. Today, I do want to live because working with other people, it gave me an opportunity to realize it’s about my thinking today, it’s about support today,” stated Lori Stone, a recovering alcoholic, addict, and healing from depression.

Peer specialists said to speak up and speak out and continue to demand that legislators do something about mental health because it affects us all. If you are a person that is going through mental illness there is help.

The suicide prevention hotline number is 988 and it’s open 24/7. There are groups like NAMI and Focus Clubhouse that are willing to help.