Satcher Announces Suicide Prevention Initiative
Surgeon General David Satcher yesterday unveiled a national campaign designed to prevent suicide and raise awareness of the problem, the nation's eighth-leading cause of death, the Albany Times-Union reports. Satcher said that the "National Strategy for Suicide Prevention" -- the first national prevention guide in the United States -- addresses a "serious public health concern" and is his "highest priority" (Levy, Albany Times-Union, 5/3). Each year more than 650,000 Americans attempt suicide and more than 30,000 commit suicide. Roughly 50% more Americans die as a result of suicide than homicide (Dunham, Reuters/Detroit Free Press, 5/3). The Los Angeles Times reports that the initiative is modeled after an Air Force program designed in collaboration with the CDC. That program, instituted in 1996, led to a drop in the rate from 16.4 suicides per 100,000 active members to 9.4 in 1998 through the use of "early intervention and support services" (Cimons, Los Angeles Times, 5/3). Here are some of the Satcher report's main recommendations:
- To enable "aggressive intervention" for those at risk of suicide, states and localities should create more suicide-prevention programs in schools, colleges, jails and the workplace (McQueen, AP/Ft. Worth Star Telegram, 5/3).
- Screening for suicide risk factors, which include depression, "feelings of hopelessness" and a family history of suicide, should be conducted at the primary care level, and clergy and family members should be encouraged to help identify risk factors (Reuters/Detroit Free Press). In addition, physicians and nurses should be encouraged "to ask at-risk patients about the presence of firearms, drugs and other lethal weapons in their homes."
- The creation of a "national violent death reporting system" that would include suicide and allow better tracking of the problem. The AP/Ft. Worth Star Telegram reports that only 17 states "require hospitals to use a special code for suicide" and often local health officials and providers will declare a cause of death other than suicide "to spare a family embarrassment and pain."
- More states should enact mental health parity laws that would require insurers to provide the same amount of coverage for mental health and substance abuse care as for physical care (AP/Ft. Worth Star Telegram, 5/3).
- "Reducing the stigma associated with mental health and substance abuse treatment by "decreasing costs of care and by encouraging people to think of mental health in the same way they think of physical health" (Albany Times-Union, 5/3).
- The report also found that the depiction of mental illness on television and in movies could have a negative effect on the suicide rate, as "[n]egative views of [mental health] problems may lead individuals to deny they have a problem or be reluctant to seek treatment -- and untreated mental illness and substance abuse are strongly correlated with suicide" (Los Angeles Times, 5/3).
The report recommends that these goals, to be instituted on a voluntary basis by states, local agencies and "anybody else who wanted to follow them," be implemented by 2005 (AP/Ft. Worth Star Telegram, 5/3). "Only recently have the knowledge and tools become available to approach suicide as a preventable problem with realistic opportunities to save lives," Satcher said (Los Angeles Times, 5/3). A summary of the report can be found at http://www.mentalhealth.org/suicideprevention/summarytoc.htm.
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