Suicide prevention strategy calls for screening those most at risk

Suicide is the 10th-leading cause of death in the U.S. Data show that 1.1 million adults tried to kill themselves in the past year.

By — Posted Sept. 21, 2012

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An updated national suicide prevention strategy calls on physicians to screen patients at increased risk of taking their own lives and to educate family members about ways to support such individuals.

At-risk patients include those with an illness that impairs their physical functions or causes chronic pain, members of the Armed Forces and veterans.

Doctors also are encouraged to implement protocols that ensure immediate follow-up with patients after they are discharged from an emergency department or inpatient care facility due to suicidal thoughts or behavior.

The recommendations are part of the 2012 National Strategy for Suicide Prevention issued Sept. 10 by the Dept. of Health and Human Services Office of the Surgeon General and the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention. The alliance is a public-private partnership focused on advancing the national initiative.

“Keeping [Americans] safe from lost hope is as critical a public health issue as keeping them safe from bad drinking water, tainted food or infectious diseases,” said Pamela S. Hyde, administrator of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

The goal of the national strategy is to guide the development and implementation of suicide prevention efforts in the next 10 years and dramatically decrease the number of suicide attempts and deaths.

In the next five years, the nation will work to save 20,000 lives from suicide, said former Oregon U.S. Sen. Gordon H. Smith, co-chair of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention.

The revised plan updates the country’s first national strategy for suicide prevention, which was released in 2001. The revision was spurred by developments in the field, including greater awareness about groups at increased risk of suicide and updated data on the effectiveness of interventions, such as behavioral therapy and crisis lines.

“Our message today is one of hope,” said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “The national strategy will bring together the nation’s resources, both public and private, in an organized effort to provide lifesaving services and improve the ability of individuals, friends and family members to recognize the warning signs of despair and take action to save lives.”

Using Facebook to prevent suicides

Suicide is the 10th-leading cause of death in the U.S., with more than 33,000 deaths each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the past year, more than 8 million adults had serious thoughts of suicide, and 1.1 million attempted suicide.

Among students in grades 9-12, nearly 16% seriously considered taking their lives in the past year, and 7.8% made at least one suicide attempt.

“The latest research shows that suicide is preventable, suicidal behaviors are treatable and the support of families, friends and colleagues are critical protective factors,” said U.S. Surgeon General Regina M. Benjamin, MD. “Suicide prevention needs to be addressed in the comprehensive coordinated way outlined in the national strategy.”

The plan was developed by a 19-person task force that included Dr. Benjamin, mental health experts, public health officials and suicide prevention specialists. They created four strategic directions to help guide the nation in reducing suicide attempts and deaths:

  • Create supportive environments that promote healthy and empowered individuals, families and communities.
  • Enhance clinical and community preventive services.
  • Promote the availability of timely treatment and supportive services.
  • Improve suicide prevention surveillance collection, research and evaluation.

Each category has multiple goals and objectives (link).

Some key goals include: integrating and coordinating suicide prevention activities across multiple sectors; providing training to community groups and health professionals on suicide and related behaviors; and evaluating the impact and effectiveness of suicide prevention interventions.

Also expected to help reduce the number of suicides is $55.6 million in grant money for suicide prevention programs and an outreach campaign geared toward active military and veterans that was launched Sept. 10 by the Dept. of Veterans Affairs and Dept. of Defense.

Facebook recently unveiled a service that enables users to report a suicidal comment they see posted to the site by a friend. Facebook staff immediately will send an email to the individual who posts the suicidal remark and encourage him or her to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. The person also could click on a link to begin a confidential chat with a crisis worker.

“Every suicide is a tragedy,” said Marne Levine, Facebook’s global vice president for public policy. “And though we might not be able to prevent every single one of them, we certainly want to be able to do everything we can to at least try.”

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