Indianz.Com > News > Tom Cole: Mental health must be our nation’s priority
Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma): Weekly Chat – September 8, 2023
Making Mental Health A National Priority
Monday, September 25, 2023

In recent years, our nation has experienced an alarming spike in poor mental health that was exacerbated by COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns. Sadly, too many Americans have faced symptoms of anxiety, depression or more. This Suicide Prevention Awareness Month is a critical reminder to take mental health seriously and promote a healthy and mindful lifestyle.

In 2020, congressional lawmakers worked together in a bipartisan, bicameral manner to designate 9-8-8 as the three-digit number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline that would include the Veterans Crisis Line for veteran-specific mental health support. The previous lifeline being ten digits created a barrier to Americans in crisis seeking help. I was proud to be a leader in this effort as an original co-sponsor of the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act of 2019 and was glad to see its full implementation nationwide in July last year.

Since then, Oklahoma has become a leader in individual states’ implementation of this lifeline, even achieving top-ten status as one of the most successful response systems in the country. In Oklahoma, the 9-8-8 Mental Health Lifeline has answered more than 45,000 calls, responded to more than 10,000 texts and dispatched more than 5,000 crisis teams since its launch.

In Oklahoma, 4.1 percent of adults have reported to have serious thoughts of suicide in the past year, one in ten students reported to have attempted suicide and each week and approximately 300 Oklahomans are admitted for urgent care or crisis mental health services. Oklahoma’s lifeline is not just for those with suicidal ideation but for anyone in any mental health crisis.

Our country and its leaders must address the mental health crisis and improve rapid access to suicide and crisis intervention services to prevent death and injury from suicide attempts. This year, I am proud Congress is on track to provide the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration $501 million in funding, five times the funding level in fiscal year 2022 at $101 million. This critical funding will allow the system to increase response rate speed, strengthen network infrastructure and technology, improve communications services, including Spanish-speaking and video services for those who are deaf and hard of hearing, and enhance partnerships with 911 centers and first responders.

Mental wellness and caring for your mental state are just as important as any other illness. Whether you are suffering from emotional or psychological distress or not, you must prioritize your mental well-being. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends simple yet effective practices to do so, including exercising regularly, prioritizing sleep and relaxation and staying connected to friends, family and loved ones who can provide help and support when needed. For more information and resources on self-care from the NIH, visit

If you are having thoughts of self-harm, suicide or are facing a mental health crisis, you can receive confidential help from a mental health professional by calling or texting 9-8-8. And if you are a veteran, dial 9-8-8, then press 1 to receive veteran-specific care. On the call or through text messaging, a professional will help you talk through your crisis, receive the resources you need and can even assist in sending a crisis team to you, help you receive transportation to urgent care or a crisis center and schedule follow-up appointments.

If you or someone you know is struggling, do not be afraid to seek help.

Tom Cole, a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, is serving his tenth term in the U.S. Congress as the elected representative of Oklahoma’s 4th Congressional District. He is recognized as an advocate for taxpayers and small business, a proponent for a strong national defense and a leader in promoting biomedical research. He is considered the foremost expert in the U.S. House of Representatives on issues dealing with Native Americans and tribal governments. He and his wife, Ellen, have one son, Mason, and reside in Moore, Oklahoma.