On May 3, U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher, M.D., launched a national plan to reduce the suicide rate in the United States. A collaborative effort by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, and the Health Resources and Services Administration, the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention maps out 11 goals and provides a blueprint for action on those goals.
The National Strategy is modeled on a U.S. Air Force (USAF) suicide prevention program that is credited with decreasing the number of suicides within its ranks from 16.4 per 100,000 members in 1994 to 9.4 in 1998. The USAF program called for a community-wide approach to early intervention, counseling and other services.
While the widespread applicability of the USAF program is limited by the nature of military life (closed society and comprehensive health care benefits that include unlimited mental health care), a spokesperson for Satcher told the press, "Nevertheless, it proves such a plan can work."
The National Strategy notes that suicide is the eighth leading cause of death in the United States and that there are twice as many deaths due to suicide than due to HIV and AIDS. The National Strategy aims to prevent premature death due to suicide across the life span; reduce the rates of other suicidal behaviors; reduce the harmful after-effects associated with suicidal behavior and the traumatic effect of suicide on family and friends; and promote opportunities and settings to enhance resiliency, resourcefulness, respect and interconnectedness among individuals, families and communities. This will require the combined efforts of families, schools, doctors, states and the federal government.
The 11 goals in the National Strategy follow a public health approach: they define the problem, identify risk and protective factors, develop and test interventions, implement those interventions, and evaluate their effectiveness. Included among the goals are promoting awareness that suicide is preventable and reducing the stigma associated with utilizing mental health, substance abuse or suicide prevention services. Another important goal is to establish a national violent death reporting system that would include suicide.
Recommendations for interventions include adding more suicide prevention workshops in schools (including colleges and universities), prisons and the workplace. The National Strategy also recommends that more states require health plans to cover mental illness and substance abuse at the same level that physical illness is covered. To increase awareness, the National Strategy recommends that doctors and other health care professionals ask at-risk patients about the presence of lethal weapons in their homes. It also calls for public service announcements similar to those featuring car seats and smoking.
The entire report can be found on the Surgeon General's Web site at www.mentalhealth.org/suicideprevention--EAD