WASHINGTON – After more than a decade, the nation’s suicide prevention strategy has been updated to reflect major advancements in research, practice, and prevention efforts, and for the first time it enlists the social networking site Facebook as part of the nationwide efforts.
"Back in 2001, when the strategy was last offered, if someone asked me for Facebook, I’d start looking for a photo album," said John McHugh, secretary of the Army and cochair of the alliance that helped relaunch the strategy. Friends and family now can report suicidal comments and postings to Facebook.
Despite the advancements, nearly 356,000 Americans have died by their own hands in the last decade, making suicide the 10th leading cause of death in the nation and the third leading cause of death among young people.
The trend has been especially alarming in the armed forces, according to a statement by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius at the Sept. 10 press conference announcing the relaunch. In July, the Army lost 38 soldiers to suicide, an all-time one-month high, she said.
The 2012 National Strategy for Suicide Prevention lists 13 goals and 60 objectives aimed at reducing the nation’s suicide rate over the next decade. Among those goals are availability of timely treatment and support services, and enhancement of clinical and community preventive services.
Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin said one focus of the prevention strategy is an increase in training for all physicians and their staff.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently introduced a screening tool for depression, said Pamela Hyde, administrator for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. "We’re also interested in emergency rooms," where people are brought in after attempting suicide, Ms. Hyde said. The hope is to connect those individuals with follow-up care and help save a life, she explained.
Ms. Sebelius also announced $55.6 million in new grants for national and local suicide prevention programs, partly funded by the Affordable Care Act.
"We want to make sure suicide prevention efforts are part of the broader efforts to improve health care across America," Ms. Sebelius said. Medicare began covering annual screening for depression in 2011, "which is especially important, since older Americans have the highest rate of death by suicide," she said.
Also, the Department of Veterans Affairs has launched a new outreach campaign that includes public service announcements and local efforts to connect veterans and service members to the Veterans Crisis Line (800-273-8255, press 1). Dr. Benjamin has released a public service announcement promoting the National Suicide Prevention Line, which also is 800-273-8255.
VA officials said they were doubling the Crisis Line workforce and hiring 1,600 new mental health professionals.
Suicide rates declined among both males and females from 1991 to 2000; according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, those rates have gradually increased since then.
The first National Strategy for Suicide Prevention was launched in 2001 by then–Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher. The 2012 National Strategy was put together by collaboration of the Office of the U.S. Surgeon General and the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, which is made up of about 200 public and private organizations.
"In the past we’ve often treated mental health and substance abuse as personal issues," Ms. Sebelius said. "But by addressing these conditions and recognizing that they’re just as important to our country as addressing any health issue ... we must take action against suicide together, as a community."