In recognition of Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, the Biden-Harris Administration is highlighting key actions it has advanced across the federal government to improve suicide prevention. Suicide is a complex problem with no single cause and no single solution, but the Administration is committed to taking aggressive actions, including:
- Tackling the Mental Health Crisis. President Biden named tackling the mental health crisis a key pillar of his Unity Agenda, laying out a strategy to transform how mental health is understood, perceived, accessed, treated, and integrated – in and out of health care settings. Released in March, the President’s strategy outlined several actions to: (1) strengthen system capacity; (2) connect more Americans to care, and: (3) create healthy environments to strengthen mental health. Ensuring a robust crisis services infrastructure is a key focus area being pursued under this strategy.
- Launching 988 as the New National Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. Ensuring timely access to crisis intervention saves lives. In July, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) successfully transitioned to the new easy to remember number 9-8-8, making it easier for individuals in crisis to access life-saving crisis counseling. The Biden Administration has invested $432 million – an 18-fold increase in federal support – to help states prepare for transition, providing critical resources to help ensure access to trained crisis counselors via phone, chat, and text.
- Improving Suicide Screening and Risk Detection. Identifying individuals at risk and connecting them to care is essential for preventing suicide. In January, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Bright Futures Program updated its national guidelines to include universal screening for suicide risk for youth ages 12-21 years. With this update, most private health plans will be required to cover this screening at no cost to patients. Also in January, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) implemented the DHS-Columbia Protocol Mobile App to help identify those at elevated risk for suicide and direct them to support and care.
- Promoting Lethal Means Safety. Suicide crises are often brief, and putting time and space between a person in crisis and access to lethal means is critical. The Administration has advanced an unprecedented focus on promoting firearm safety. In May, CDC published a Vital Signs Report on Firearm Safety highlighting the growing disparities in firearm violence, including firearm-related suicide, and emphasized the importance of lethal mean safety. VA launched the first of its kind paid media campaign, KeepItSecure.net, to highlight the importance of firearm safe storage in preventing veteran suicide. In January 2022, ATF issued a final rule clarifying firearms dealers’ statutory obligations to make available for purchase compatible secure gun storage or safety devices. The Department of Defense (DoD) released new evidence-informed communication tools, including a public service announcement, to encourage safe storage among military service members and their families. And, as part of the White House strategy to end military and veteran suicide, DOD, HHS, DHS, DOJ, and the Office of Emergency Medical Services in the Department of Transportation will create a joint plan for educating the public on lethal means safety.
- Supporting Populations at High-Risk. Several populations are at high risk for suicide, including American Indians, Alaska Native youth, LGTBQI+ youth, rural men, military veterans, law enforcement officials and health professionals. In November, the White House released a comprehensive, cross-sector, public health strategy to reduce military and veteran suicide. This strategy identified five priority goals for harnessing a whole of government approach to prevent suicide in the military and veteran community. In January, HRSA awarded $103 million in Resiliency Awards to help promote mental wellbeing and reduce suicide occurrences among health professionals. In May, HRSA launched the National Maternal Mental Health Hotline, a free, confidential, 24/7 resource for pregnant and postpartum individuals facing mental health challenges. HRSA also is supporting Rural Health Information Hub Response to Farmer Mental Health and Suicide Prevention focusing on programs to address mental health concerns, stress, and suicide rates among farmers and ranchers. In April, the Indian Health Service, awarded $10 million for Zero Suicide Initiative grants to six Tribes and two Urban Indian Organizations to improve the system of care for those at risk for suicide by implementing a comprehensive, culturally informed, multi-setting approach to suicide prevention in Indian health systems.
- Enhancing Community-Based Prevention Efforts. There are many factors that contribute to risk of suicide, including job strain or loss; serious illness, including mental illness; and financial, criminal, legal, and relationship problems. Reducing suicide requires implementing community-based efforts that address all these factors. Earlier this month, CDC announced expansion of their Comprehensive Suicide Prevention (CSP) program to 15 states and 2 universities total, with approximately $15 million in annual funding. VA announced $52 million for 80 community-based organizations to deliver or coordinate suicide prevention programs and services for veterans and their family members. SAMHSA awarded $1.6 million to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center to improve training for the suicide prevention workforce, advance the development of community infrastructure for suicide prevention, and provide additional technical assistance in suicide prevention.
- Improving Mobile Crisis Care. Ensuring rapid response by trained mental health and substance use treatment professionals and paraprofessionals safely connects individuals in crisis to needed services. With funding from the American Rescue Plan, CMS awarded $15 million planning grants to 20 State Medicaid Agencies to develop plans to provide qualifying community-based mobile crisis intervention services. Earlier this month, HHS approved the nation’s first Medicaid mobile crisis intervention services program under the new ARP option in Oregon. And, in May, HHS announced an additional $9 million in Cooperative Agreements for Innovative Crisis Response Partnerships grants for states, territories, tribes and other entities to create or enhance existing mobile crisis response teams.
- Preventing Youth Suicide: SAMHSA announced $7.3 million in Cooperative Agreements for the Garrett Lee Smith (GLS) State/Tribal Youth Suicide Prevention and Early Intervention Program to support youth suicide prevention and early intervention strategies in schools, institutions of higher education, juvenile justice systems, substance use and mental health programs, foster care systems, and other child and youth-serving organizations. SAMHSA also announced $2.2 for the GLS Campus Suicide Prevention Grant Program to support a comprehensive public health and evidence-based approach that enhances mental health services for all college students, including those at risk for suicide, depression, serious mental illness (SMI)/serious emotional disturbances (SED), and/or substance use disorders.
- Understanding Risk Factors and Tailoring Solutions. To facilitate culturally appropriate, evidence-based solutions, we need better data on the factors that contribute to suicide. In May, DoD established the Suicide Prevention and Response Independent Review Committee to comprehensively review programs and factors that may prevent suicide in the military. CDC and DoD began linking data systems to improve the DoD’s Suicide Event Report and are sharing National Violent Death Reporting System data on veterans and civilian populations to better understand the contributors to suicide in these populations.
- Increasing Access to Effective Care. Decreasing barriers to affordable, high quality mental health care is a known, effective suicide prevention strategy. To help veterans in need get connected to the care or other support services, VA launched the “Don’t Wait. Reach Out” campaign. In March, the Deputy Secretary of Defense issued a message to all Defense personnel, including service members, reminding them to prioritize their mental health. The memo assured personnel that seeking professional mental health care would not jeopardize their security clearances and encouraged all leaders to promote help seeking. In addition, HRSA funds Pediatric Mental Health Care Access (PMHCA) grant program, to increase access to pediatric mental health care by building workforce capacity.
- Providing Technical Support to Communities. Helping communities focus on activities with the greatest potential to prevent suicide is a critical. This fall, CDC will publish the Suicide Prevention Resource for Action, an update to their Suicide Prevention Technical Package. CDC is also funding the launch of a Community-Led Suicide Prevention website that will provide step-by-step process tools to help communities plan and work towards suicide prevention goals. To further support communities, HHS and VA expanded their Governor’s Challenge for Prevent Suicide Among Service Members, Veterans, and their Families to 49 states and 5 territories, all are working to develop and implement state-wide suicide prevention best practices using a public health approach.
- Promoting Access to Better Data. CDC is funding the New Opportunities for Health and Resilience Measures for Suicide (NO HARMS) project to create a ‘living’ data resource through the linkage of cross-sector data with seven new data sets. CDC also funded 10 states in its Emergency Department Surveillance of Nonfatal Suicide-Related Outcomes (ED SENSRO) project that tracked and monitored suicide attempts and ideation in near real-time, helping jurisdictions detect potential suicide spikes, clusters, or outbreaks and rapidly share this information with local practitioners and organizations. HRSA also expanded the Fetal, Infant, and Child Death Review Program to gather more in-depth information on child deaths by suicide.
Suicide was a leading cause of death in the United States during 2021, claiming the lives of more than 47,000 individuals. Tragically, suicide was the second leading cause of death among young people. To those experiencing emotional distress or those that care for them, please know that you are loved, and that you are not alone. There is hope, and there is help. Please call or text 9-8-8 to reach the National Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.