Tragically, tens of thousands of Americans lose their lives to suicide every year, the statistics are alarming. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. More young adults aged 15-24 die by suicide than anything else with the exception of accidents. Every single day, the lives of 18 to 22 veterans are lost. These statistics are incredibly disheartening when thinking of the millions of families, friends and colleagues who are left to mourn these losses. Yet, research tells us that with appropriate training, education and outreach, suicide can be prevented.
Nearly 90% of people who die by suicide have an underlying mental health condition. Yet, the American Association of Suicidology reports that many mental health professionals do not have appropriate training in suicide prevention. Since most mental health professionals will encounter a person who is suicidal at some point during their careers, adequate education in suicide prevention is critical.
Recognizing this, Minnesota, New Hampshire and Utah passed legislation in 2015 that mandates suicide awareness and prevention education for mental health professionals. For example, SB 33, enacted in New Hampshire, requires mental health practitioners receive at least three hours of continuing education training. The training includes suicide prevention, intervention or postvention as part of the license renewal process that occurs every two years.
Teachers and other school personnel also play an important part in young adult suicide prevention. Eight states (Georgia, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Utah and West Virginia) enacted legislation during the 2015 term designed to create training and resources for school staff. In North Dakota, SB 2209 requires school districts to provide annual suicide prevention training to all middle school and high school instructional staff, teachers and administrators. Similarly, SB 1458 in Minnesota expands funding for grants that provide evidence-based suicide prevention training to school staff and other professionals who work with young people.
Far too many lives are lost each year to suicide. Suicide prevention training is a concrete way to prevent deaths and help direct people to treatment and recovery. More states will hopefully follow the examples that these states have made in the future. But don’t wait for tomorrow to take action. Contact your elected officials today to support bills to help prevent suicide and to support other bills improving our nation’s mental health.