This summer, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that suicide rates have been on a steady rise in nearly every state in the nation since 1999. In 25 states, the rates have risen by more than 30%. To address this growing epidemic of suicides will take more than just wishful thinking. The truth is that it takes a village to bring awareness and change to a major issue like the suicide epidemic. The nation needs to coalesce its healthcare industry, education system, and local communities in the same way that it has tackled issues such as smoking, seat belt safety, and HIV. Here are three ways that suicide awareness and prevention can lead to sustainable change in the United States.
Mental Health First Aid
Most people are familiar with the life saving techniques and methods taught by the Red Cross such as CPR, or how to administer first aid in the event of a cut or concussion, but why is there no awareness surrounding mental health preparedness? Just like in traditional first aid classes, Mental Health First Aid teaches participants the correct way to deal with someone suffering from a mental health emergency and how best to help that person. The organization provides an 8-hour course that has been given to over 1 million across the United States and has even been endorsed by Michelle Obama.
Mental Health First Aid was first created when a coalition of mental healthcare providers recognized the need. So many of us know how to respond to a physical emergency, but what about when someone is having a panic attack or if we are concerned that a friend or co-worker could be showing signs of alcoholism. When more people are equipped to recognize and intervene, more people can get the help they need. To get trained on Mental Health First Aid, you can use their online tool to find nearby training seminars or email [email protected] to schedule a special training for your organization, company or group.
Primary Health Care Checkpoints
Primary health care checkpoints are a relatively new approach to mental health care that draw from border patrol. The SAMHSA Center for Integrated Health Solutions reports that nearly 45% of people that commit suicide had visited their primary care doctor within a month of their death. This number is far too high given how vital intervention can be during the suicidal ideation process. Healthcare providers need to partner up and develop a universal, systematic, checkpoint system that can help identify when someone is possibly at risk for suicide.
The SBIRT Method (Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment) is a useful outline for mental health screening that should become a universal tool for primary care providers everywhere. The method was created by SAMHSA and screens patients for substance abuse, suicidal ideation, and other mental health indicators. The program also includes follow up steps for alcohol abuse, illicit drug abuse, depression, trauma, anxiety, and suicide.
Suicide rates around the country could decrease if communities worked to help destigmatize mental health issues. One way communities could do this is through Employee Assistance Programs that link employees to available mental health resources. School systems can also start by offering more purposeful suicide prevention education into their general health curriculum. Churches and other faith-based organizations can also host support groups and behavioral health wellness classes through the assistance of resources of entities such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Research shows that individuals often turn to friends and families about suicide before any other source. The family can take the place of a first responder and be an effective means to preventing suicide from occurring. Suicide is an intensely personal decision, so personal support systems are the key to intervening. The Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention is an advocacy group that is helping to equip individuals and their families to tackle the subject of suicide. This group has published the Action Alliance Framework for Successful Messaging which provides guidelines for the media, national leaders, and family members to change the public narratives and messaging surrounding suicide.
Reducing Access to Lethal Means
Firearms remain one of the most common methods in the world for suicide. Death from self inflicted gunshot account for almost 60% of all suicides. This is followed by self poisoning and intentional drug overdose. One way that the nation can reduce suicides is by reducing access to firearms and unused medications. Fortunately, the CALM method has been developed and in use for a number of years and has shown promising results. In Colorado, for example, one study found that parents of children being treated for suicide risk that underwent training in the CALM method were able to increase lock up rates for medication and firearms by more than 70%.
Ownership of a gun and access to prescription medication should be accompanied by instructions on how to properly store and lock these items. We don’t allow citizens to drive until they have passed a test certifying they are able to operate a vehicle safely, yet citizens have no mandate to prove they can safely operate a gun or handle potentially addictive or lethal medication. A large amount of prescription medication winds up in the hands of family members and friends and is used for non-medicinal purposes. To combat this, pharmaceutical retailers such as Walmart and CVS have started implementing drug disposal programs that safely eliminate unused or excess medication.
Increasing Access to Behavioral Health Providers
According the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, nearly 55% of counties within the United States do not have any practicing behavioral health workers, with 77% reporting that they have unmet behavioral health needs. Healthcare providers around the country should work to close the gaps and shortages that are leaving thousands high and dry when it comes to treating their mental health and substance abuse issues. Hospitals and colleges of medicine can offer incentives to students that pursue this career path and work to expand their facilities into rural and underserved areas.
Matthew Boyle is the Chief Operating Officer of Landmark Recovery, a drug and alcohol recovery center. He has been working in the healthcare space for 7 years with a new emphasis on recovery. Before his ventures into healthcare, Matthew graduated from Duke University in 2011 Summa Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree. After Duke Matthew went on to work for Boston Consulting Group before he realized where his true passion lied within Recovery. His vision is to save a million lives in 100 years with a unique approach to recovery that creates a supportive environment through trust, treatment, and intervention.