Arizona Rally for Suicide Prevention at the State Capitol | Photo by Harrison Mantas

Activists, families, and lawmakers came together at the Arizona State Capitol to support legislation to combat the mental health and suicide crisis in Arizona. 

Denise Denslow knows the pain of losing a teenager too soon. Her son, Jacob, took his life in 2016 after years of battling depression and two suicide attempts. On Monday morning during the Rally to Prevent Suicide in Arizona & Arizona State Capitol Day, Denslow relived that pain for a path to a solution for other teens.

At that time, Jacob’s insurance company had only paid for him to stay in the hospital for five days, but Denslow said it should have been 60 so medical staff could see the effects Jacob’s medication was having, or not having on him.

“I know for some people that sounds like a lot, but if you think about the amount of time it takes anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medication to work, it’s six-to-eight-weeks minimum,” she said to Fox10 after her son’s death.

Thus, Denise started a change.org petition in 2016 to prevent insurance companies from limiting coverage for mental illness. And as of this year, legislation named after her son, Jake’s Law (HB 2764), is currently working its way through the Arizona House and Senate. It aims to increase access to resources, improve data collection, and address mental health parity.

“That’s why Jake’s Law is so important to us,” Denslow told the crowd at the Capitol. “We want to make sure everyone has access to behavioral health care.”  

One aspect of Jake’s Law would require the Department of Health Services to establish rules guiding when someone who is being treated for mental heath can be discharged from a hospital.

The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equality Act of 2008 (MHPAEA) was supposed to address this problem; however, Courier reported in December that hasn’t happened. 

Jake’s Law creates an enforcement mechanism for the MHPAEA by requiring insurance companies to file reports every three years to the State Department of Insurance demonstrating compliance with the law. 

It would also require insurers to list the government agencies patients can contact to file complaints or ask questions about their coverage.

Statistics from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the agency that hosted Monday’s rally, show suicide is the eighth leading cause of death in Arizona, and the second leading cause of death for persons age 15-34. Additionally, between 2016 and 2017, there was a 32% increase in the rate of youth suicide, with the majority of those taking their lives being ages 15-17.

“It doesn’t have to be this way. There’s hope, and I believe this is all preventable,” Denslow told the crowd.