Chief Executive Officer
Director of Public Relations and Media
Washington, D.C. (January 30, 2020) – The CDC’s most recent suicide-related data in its annual mortality and life expectancy report once again highlights the public health crisis of suicide in this country. This report indicates that there were 48,344 suicide deaths in the US in 2018 and the rate increased from 14 per 100,000 population in 2017 to 14.2 per 100,000 population in 2018. Previous reports have shown increases in suicide deaths among all demographic groups as well, further illuminating the critical need to fund comprehensive suicide prevention initiatives in the US.
“As the rate of suicide continues to climb in this country, year over year, it is necessary to focus on the few effective suicide prevention strategies we’re aware of,” said Jonathan Singer, President of the American Association of Suicidology (AAS). “We’re at a tipping point, where we understand some fundamental, effective prevention methods, but must develop population-level implementation. This includes the potential of implementing non-traditional, alternative methods of intervention like community-based strategies that expand the scope of suicide prevention beyond mental health responses.”
There is only speculation as to why suicide rates are rising in the US. It remains important for the media, suicide prevention, and mental health organizations to communicate to the public that any single explanation for why individuals attempt or die by suicide is insufficient. In fact, it could be detrimental to imply that we can explain its causes without direct scientific evidence to support such claims. Conversely, this means that no single approach to solving the problem of suicide is sufficient, but rather a multidisciplinary, multi-sector strategy is necessary.
Systems for gathering data about suicide deaths, attempts, and ongoing suicidal experiences are significantly underdeveloped and undersupported. The US must establish better epidemiology around suicide, as well as develop innovative methods for collecting data at scale so our best researchers can help us understand what is happening. This specifically includes funding for suicide prevention at the scale of the problem, nationally, regionally, and locally. If we continue to fund suicide prevention research in a piecemeal way, we will never understand its causes or effectively support its prevention at scale. Recent increases in funding for the CDC and NIH are an excellent start but do not reflect the size and scope of the public health crisis.
“Among the very few things we have evidence for showing an impact on suicide rates, like crisis lines, training of healthcare professionals, and maintained contact with people experiencing thoughts of suicide, access to lethal means is one of the most important for us to focus on,” said Colleen Creighton, CEO of AAS. “By putting space and time between someone experiencing thoughts of suicide and their method, namely firearms, we greatly increase their chances of survival. We see very promising research surrounding firearms safety legislation and its potential to reduce suicide rates at population levels.”
In the US, there is no national requirement for crisis response training among healthcare professionals despite suicide being the 10th leading cause of death. No national standard suicide risk assessment or standardized requirement for suicide care yet exists in the private healthcare system. It is left to individual health systems to make suicide-safer care a priority. Few regulatory bodies are currently invested in the research that would make such standards of care mandatory for every patient or client. Given the scope of the public health crisis of suicide, training and regulatory bodies have much room to improve the systems of care and ensure providers are ready to help someone at risk of suicide.
There is also increased attention being paid to suicide prevention in the form of new, bipartisan legislation for a three-digit, crisis intervention and mental health hotline. Congresspeople, the FCC, and many others in the telecommunications industry are diligently working on creating and fully funding this resource to increase access for those in need.
From April 22-25, 2020, AAS will convene its 53rd Annual Conference in Portland, OR at the Marriott Downtown Waterfront where we anticipate thousands of suicidologists, researchers, clinicians, advocates, those with lived experience of suicide loss and attempts, and many more to discuss the topics outlined in this press release. We know it will take all of these individuals to reverse the upward trend of suicide rates in the US. Suicide Prevention is Everyone’s Business.
For the Media: Responsible reporting on suicide, including stories of hope and resilience, can prevent more suicides. Please visit the Suicide Reporting Recommendations for more information.
About AAS: The American Association of Suicidology is the world’s largest membership-based suicide prevention organization. Founded in 1968 by Edwin S. Shneidman, PhD, AAS promotes the research of suicide and its prevention, public awareness programs, public education and training for professionals and volunteers. The membership of AAS includes mental health and public health professionals, researchers, suicide prevention and crisis intervention centers, school districts, crisis center volunteers, survivors of suicide loss, attempt survivors, and a variety of laypersons who have in interest in suicide prevention. You can learn more about AAS at www.suicidology.org.