Apolitical: Suicide is a public health crisis - so where's the money and will to end it?
Opinion: 45,000 Americans died by suicide in 2016, but nowhere is it a priority
When the US released its most recent suicide statistics, there should have been a national outcry. From 1999 to 2016, US suicide rates soared by more than 30%. In 2016 alone, some 45,000 people died by suicide.
The suicide rate in every single state, with the exception of Nevada, went up between six and 58% over the last 17 years. It’s not just one state or one region. It’s a nationwide increase and a national problem.
Despite the great work happening in many communities and many states, most is done on too small a scale to meaningfully impact overall suicide rates. Clearly, current and previous efforts are not working and are either not good enough, not implemented on a large enough scale, or both.
In Colorado, where I’m co-chair of the Colorado-National Collaborative for Suicide Prevention, we have worked hard to foster and build local, state and national partnerships. We have garnered strong political will at the state level resulting in meaningful legislative bills that have increased our funding and capacity for suicide prevention. Our initiatives are data-driven and leverage state, federal and foundation funding to support the implementation of many priorities.
We select prevention strategies designed to reach people before they begin having thoughts of suicide. Strategies are intended to build protective factors like connectedness, positive social norms and economic stability. And, we are working diligently with local, state and national partners to develop, implement and evaluate a comprehensive suicide prevention approach. Working together, we have accomplished a lot, but there is much more yet to be done.
“We are fighting a forest fire with a garden hose”
Perhaps I am too impatient. Perhaps outrage and resources to address this issue are forthcoming. Somehow, I doubt it.
But suicide prevention should be treated like any other public health crisis — with ample funding, and in the knowledge that prevention is possible. Smoking, HIV and polio have all been drastically reduced by such approaches. As a society, it is essential to rebuke the outdated, misinformed construct that suicide is an individual and un-preventable result of a character flaw or personal weakness.
We need to fund research to find the “seatbelt” of suicide prevention and adopt it nationwide. Health care that includes prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery needs to be available to everyone. We need to empower people to access that care early, even when dealing with an emotional or mental health issue.
I have no doubt the plan and strategies we are building and beginning to implement in Colorado are a move in the right direction. We have dedicated local, state and national leaders working tirelessly to get it right, and humble enough to correct course when we misstep.
However, a comprehensive plan that lacks the resources and capacity to be implemented and evaluated at a meaningful scale is likely destined to collect dust on a shelf. I have said many times that our suicide prevention efforts in Colorado and the U.S. are akin to fighting a forest fire with a garden hose.
In less than two years, Colorado’s annual suicide prevention funding has jumped from $550,000 to $2.8 million. That is exceptional and a testament to the hard work and dedication of many suicide prevention advocates and professionals. But it’s not enough. It is time for suicide rates to be a national public health priority. Anything less is unacceptable. — Jarrod Hindman