Building Healthy and Safe Communities by Understanding and Preventing Suicides

April 03, 2019|5:08 p.m.| ASTHO Staff

With this year’s National Public Health Week, the American Public Health Association (APHA) and its partners are highlighting key issues towards creating the healthiest nation. To achieve this goal, APHA stresses the importance of building safe and healthy communities, which includes such things as reducing risks to pedestrians and bicyclist, increasing access to healthy foods, and preventing violence and suicides. Over the past few years, several states have begun to address and tackle the issue of suicide through law and policy. Below are a couple of examples of how states are using laws to promote suicide awareness and prevention.

According to a June 2018 report by CDC, suicide rates increased by more than 30 percent in half of states since 1999. To prevent suicides, the report recommends a number of strategies including identification and support of people at risk of suicide, teaching coping and problem-solving skills so that people can better manage factors contributing to suicides (e.g., relationship problems, loss of housing, substance use, etc.), and the promotion of safe and supportive environments. Ways in which states have used law and policy to implement these strategies include the use of fatality review panels or committees to better understand the circumstances surrounding suicides, as well as mandating training for school personnel about suicide awareness and prevention.

In 2012, the U.S. Surgeon General issued a National Strategy for Suicide Prevention and recommended improving and expanding state, territorial, tribal, and local public health capacity to routinely collect, analyze, report, and use suicide-related data to implement prevention efforts and inform policy decisions. The use of state health agencies and professionals to review suicide fatalities can lead to a greater understanding of the circumstances surrounding the death and the methods for preventing them. In 2013, after recognizing suicide prevention as a community responsibility, the Montana legislature established a suicide review team to examine the circumstances related to suicides and make recommendations to the governor. This legislative year, bills to establish suicide fatality reviews were introduced in Michigan (HB 4414) and Washington (HB 1240). In other states, such as Texas, suicides are included in the scope of deaths that fatality review panels may investigate.

According to CDC, suicide is the second leading cause of death among adolescents and young adults between the ages of 10 and 24—meaning that the ability to identify and appropriately respond to warning signs for suicide among youth has become a valuable skill for today’s educators. By 2016, more than half of all states required school employees to receive some level of suicide awareness and prevention training. In 2018, additional states, including Idaho (HB 634), Kentucky (HB 30), and Iowa (SF 2113), among others, enacted laws requiring training for school personnel and during the current legislative sessions, bills for school suicide prevention training have made it halfway through the legislatures in Hawaii (SB 383), New Hampshire (SB 282), Oregon (SB 52), and Arizona (SB 1468). With this training, teachers, principals, and guidance counselors will be equipped to play a key role in preventing youth suicide and getting help to those in need.

As states address suicide awareness and prevention in schools and establish suicide fatality reviews to learn more about the causes and solutions to suicide, their communities will become safer and healthier and we will be closer to creating the healthiest nation. ASTHO will continue to monitor the legal and policy levers aimed at reducing and preventing suicides. Be sure to check out events occurring during National Public Health Week, as well as the week’s daily themes, which include rural health, technology and public health, and global health.

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