SAMHSA and Partners Address the Increasing Urgency of Suicide Prevention

Throughout September 2017, in conjunction with National Suicide Prevention Month, our CFYM posts dealt with various aspects of suicide prevention: the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention’s 2012 National Strategy for Suicide Prevention (NSSP); the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s policy agenda related to suicide prevention at both the federal and state levels; a suicide attempt survivor’s personal experience of sharing her own story to help both those struggling with suicidal ideation and peers at elevated risk for suicidal ideation and attempts; and efforts directed at young people, primarily in academic settings. These posts all present thoughtful, collaborative approaches to suicide prevention and offer practical, hopeful calls to action for everyone’s participation in suicide prevention efforts: as supporters, clinicians, educators, and/or advocates.

While suicide prevention was our special focus last month, we recognize with urgent despair that suicide is an all-too-real consequence for people who experience mental health conditions, including depression and bipolar disorder. Accordingly, we must focus on prevention not only in September, but throughout the year—and for as long as people are still suffering, and dying, due to the severity of their experiences with mental health symptoms.

Indeed, in response to these literal life-and-death stakes, and in recognition of a staggering 24% increase in suicides since 1999, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)—which has always responded to suicide as an urgent and tragic public health issue—recently convened several action-oriented meetings among mental health and suicide prevention experts to address the need for enhanced and increased suicide prevention strategies. The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) was honored and proud to be part of one such session: the Tuesday, August 22, 2017 convening on Bipolar Disorder and Suicide Prevention. This day-long working meeting brought together leaders from government, academia, advocacy, science, and medicine:

  • Priscilla Clark, Dr. Anita Everett, Savannah Kalman, Dr. Richard McKeon, Dr. Lisa Rubenstein – SAMHSA;
  • Chad Daversa, Dr. Ayal Schaffer – International Society for Bipolar Disorders (ISBD);
  • Allen Doederlein – DBSA;
  • Heidi Kar – Suicide Prevention Resource Center;
  • Tina Goldstein – University of Pittsburg;
  • Ira Katz – United States Veterans Administration (VA);
  • Eric Murphy – National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH);
  • Andrew Nierenberg – Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital;
  • Mort Silverman – Suicide Prevention Resource Center;
  • Paul Surgenor – National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI);
  • Anna Van Meter – University of North Carolina; and
  • Lauren Weinstock – Brown University.

The key topics for the Bipolar Disorder and Suicide Prevention meeting were

  • Government suicide prevention efforts and priorities (SAMHSA, NIMH, VA)
  • ISBD Suicide Prevention Task Force review of findings
  • Bipolar and suicidality research review
  • Early identification and prevention strategies (clinical and community settings)
  • Clinical management of individuals with bipolar disorders and suicidal ideation/attempts

Presentations and discussions about these topics were crystalized into recommendations for policy, practice, and research. These are now being refined by a working group that will ensure the recommendations are targeted to the areas of greatest risk and need, and that they are actionable.

As we’ve seen from the past month’s intensive look at suicide prevention, it is a complex endeavor that involves numerous interlocking healthcare, community, education, policy, and social issues. Yet the reduction and—we can hope with our whole hearts—elimination of suicide as a growing public health crisis will take much the same foundation that CFYM has shown since its inception is required for the improvement of mental health outcomes. We need a healthcare environment that allows for access to services when people need them, where they need them, and how they need to receive them. We need to create safe spaces—in clinics and hospitals and health care professionals’ offices, yes; but also in schools, workplaces, homes, community centers, and places of worship; and within traditional, online, and social media—where people are empowered to share their struggles openly and can rest assured of a response that is compassionate, collaborative, consistent, and continued for as long as it is needed.

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