Three Key Messages

Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in our country. Unlike many of the leading causes of death, the suicide rate has shown no appreciable decline over the last 50 years. [see the footnote at the end of this post]That this should be so, losing so many people to this mental illness outcome, is a tragedy. It is also a tragedy we can do something about.

Over 41,000 people in America died by suicide in 2013….

Recently reforms have been recommended in suicide planning and care. The new recommendations, which I will comment on in this post, are found in three documents.

  • The Way Forward (2014 pdf).  Released by the Suicide Attempt Survivor Task Force of the National Alliance for Suicide Prevention.
  • Suicide Care in Systems Framework (2012 pdf).  Report by the Clinical Care and Intervention Task Force of the National Alliance for Suicide Prevention.
  • Continuity of care for suicide prevention and research (2011 pdf).  A report commissioned by the Suicide Prevention Resource Center.

Download links to each of these reports, and much else, can be found here on my website.

What am I asking us to do?  TO INFORM OURSELVES about the reforms these reports recommend in suicide prevention planning and care! TO BRING THE NEW RECOMMENDATIONS to our local institutions, mental health organizations, doctors, therapists as well as to our families and to our loved ones with a mental illness!

In my opinion, these three are the most significant and far reaching of the recommendations:

 1.    Add suicide loss survivors and suicide attempters to the committees or task forces appointed to develop prevention efforts. Representation is an essential and important first step in suicide prevention (The Way Forward, 2014).  We can learn from suicide loss survivors and attempt survivors both what was and what wasn’t helpful and, importantly, what was missing in preventing suicide – and solicit their suggestions for improvement.

2.    Here is the second essential change: As with people who experience a stroke or heart attack, all persons in suicidal crisis should have immediate access to care – effective treatment and support services must be available to persons in crisis, how and when they need them (Suicide Care in Systems Framework, 2012). This report details a successful example of a large organization providing immediate access to care: The Henry Ford Health System restructured its behavioral health care system with the goal of Perfect Depression Care, and now offers same-day-drop-in-care for persons in crisis.

3.    Especially, we need an infrastructure for continuity of care.The third document, (Continuity of Care for Suicide Prevention and Research, 2011) focuses on the care provided after discharge from emergency and in-patient stays, noting: “As many as 70 % of suicide attempter of all ages will never make it to their first out-patient appointment. The report continues: “[Although] patient attributes such as having few skills, minimal resources, socioeconomic distress make it hard to engage them in out-patient treatment … organizational attributes can be altered.”   “Continuity of care and coordination of care require the support of cohesive health services infrastructures rather than numerous disconnected facilities and care provision arrangements.”

Organized, accountable, actionable continuity of care is essential.

The Task Force responsible for our second report (Suicide Care in Systems Framework, 2012) believes that making suicide a never event must be the nation’s vision. “Public and behavioral health organizations save countless lives every day. By creating an organizational culture where suicide attempts and deaths are unacceptable events, and managing a care environment around that cultural shift, even more lives can be saved.”

A powerful statement.  Won’t you, along with me, be participants in advocating these reforms and that vision?


Re “…the tenth leading cause of death” see Targeting Suicide by Thomas Insel, M.D., Director of the National Institutes of Mental Health, April 2, 2015.  “Indeed,” Dr Insel notes, “the rate among middle-aged Americans is increasing, and for young people ages 15-34, it is not the tenth, but the second leading cause of death.”

In contrast with suicide, whose rates have not declined, mortality from other medical causes such as stroke, AIDS, heart disease, has declined significantly.  Clearly our suicide prevention efforts have not been effective enough nor engaged enough people to change this rate.