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Ashley Rodrigue / Eyewitness News
Email: arodrigue@wwltv.com | Twitter: @ashleyrwwl

ST. TAMMANY, La. -- St. Tammany Parish is gearing up for the start of early voting in hopes of renewing a public health tax geared toward mental health services.

The millage has been in effect since the 80s and generates almost $3 million a year. It costs $23 annually for citizens with a $200,000 home.

The money goes toward Community Health Centers, preparations for public health emergencies, like outbreaks, and most importantly, according to parish leaders, suicide prevention.

'When the therapists get to the point where they have somebody who needs outpatient therapy, we are the clinic that's called and we take somebody regardless of their ability to pay,' said Liz Teague, who runs the parish clinics.

The millage also covers the cost of the Crisis Response Team, which helps families after successful suicides and intervenes in attempts, which so far, have resulted in no further attempts.

'It's a minor amount for each of us to pay to get services for everyone,' said St. Tammany Parish President Pat Brister.

While this renewal will not help save Southeast mental hospital, it will keep mental health services available to St. Tammany Parish residents, which leaders say will become more needed when the gates close.

'It's just an absolute necessity,' Brister said. 'I think our hospitals, emergency rooms will be overrun. I think our hospitals will suffer, and so will our citizens.'

That means every citizen, insured or not.

'When you live in a community where people do not have access to health care, you are not living in a healthy community,' said Teague. 'So to keep this community healthy, these types of programs are needed.'

The proposal will be on all St. Tammany Parish early voting ballots starting Tuesday.

Organizations monitoring suicide rates in St. Tammany are fearing an increase this year. To date, 30 people have taken their lives. In 2011, the total for the year was 35.

Attempts, however, are way down, with just under 300 so far this year compared with almost 550 last year.

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