For nearly two decades, the U.S. suicide rate has been steadily rising. Last year alone, approximately 44,000 people lost their lives to suicide according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Thirteen out of every 100,000 Americans died by suicide, a rate that is 24 percent higher than in 1999.
In an effort to save thousands of lives, the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention—composed of more than 250 partner organizations, including the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention—has set a bold goal to reduce the annual suicide rate by 20 percent by 2025.
While this goal is ambitious, EDC’s Colleen Carr, deputy director of the Action Alliance, feels confident that it is achievable.
“We know so much more about suicidality and suicide prevention than we did even a decade ago,” she says. “The goal of reducing the suicide rate by 20 percent by 2025 is within our reach if we leverage public- and private-sector commitments to scale up efforts to reach individuals at risk across the nation.”
One key component of the effort is improving suicide care and treatment in large health care systems around the country. Research has shown that giving clinicians better tools to diagnose, track, and treat patients at risk for suicide can save lives. EDC has already begun to apply this research through its Zero Suicide Institute, which is supporting the adoption of the Zero Suicide model by the U.S. Air Force, Indian Health Services, Centerstone behavioral health centers, Universal Health Services (UHS), and hundreds of other health systems in the United States. Early results have shown dramatic reductions in suicides among patients at risk in health systems that have implemented Zero Suicide.
A focus on transforming the delivery of care in health systems represents a new direction for the field of suicide prevention, says Carr. The nation’s early prevention activities focused more on getting at-risk individuals into care than on ensuring health systems were suicide safe once patients arrived at the front door.
This changed in 2012, when the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention was released by the Action Alliance and the U.S. Surgeon General. The revised strategy called for suicide prevention to be a core responsibility of health and behavioral health care systems.
Carr stresses that community-based efforts are still essential, but reversing the suicide rate’s long, slow climb will require some bold new thinking as well.
“Making long-term reductions in the suicide rate requires a fundamental transformation in the way suicide care is delivered,” says Carr. “But by bringing public- and private-sector partners together to tackle this preventable public health issue, we are poised to save lives.”