By Leah Harris

Rising U.S. Suicide Rates Prompt Calls for New Approaches to Suicide Prevention 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) just released its most recent report on mortality in America, which found that there were 48,344 suicide deaths in the US in 2018, an increase from 14 per 100,000 population in 2017 to 14.2 per 100,000 population in 2018. Recent data indicate that suicide rates have been rising across all demographics and age groups in America. 

Funding for suicide prevention research has not kept up with funding levels for other leading causes of death in America. Yet there has been some admission from within the field that the issue may not be only one of funding, but also one of strategy. In a press release from the American Association of Suicidology, AAS president Jonathan Singer noted that alternative strategies are needed:

 “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.”

This statement fits with what many from impacted communities have been saying regarding one-size-fits-all approaches to suicide prevention. Such approaches tend to privilege evidence-based practices over forms of “practice-based evidence” that may be more culturally relevant and attuned to local needs.

As indigenous Canadian activist Tunchai Redvers writes in Peak Magazine

“Rather than the current mental health mechanisms that favor Western evidence-based practices and therapeutic models that are used by individuals going to and working in communities, Indigenous youth can be introduced to people who have experienced what they are experiencing and who can build mentoring relationships with them.”

Additional research suggests that in addition to culturally and locally-specific approaches, the despair caused by economic insecurity and inequality may offer additional clues when it comes to preventing suicide. A recent study found that raising the minimum wage by as little as $1 could prevent thousands of deaths by suicide. This research represents even more evidence that strategies to prevent suicide should extend beyond the realm of mental health into economic and social policy.

As Dese’Rae Stage, suicide attempt survivor and Live Through This author, recently told USA Today:

“It’s not like someone is just broken. There are all these things that happen in their life that break them. Abuse, poverty, homophobia, marginalization. Are we too focused on the individual and not enough on the systemic causes of suicide?”

In a statement made on World Mental Health Day 2019, Dr. Dainius Pūras, the United Nations (UN) special rapporteur on the right to health, recommended that states adopt a human-rights centric approach to responding to suicide:

“A human-rights approach to suicide goes beyond a focus on mental health concerns and places problems of inequality, homelessness, poverty, and discrimination at the heart of prevention strategies. Investing in strengthening human rights such as equality, children’s rights, non-discrimination, labor rights, and environmental rights are inseparable from the attainment of the right to health. In line with such an approach, governments should increase access to low-income housing, child abuse prevention, and family support, quality physical and mental healthcare and social services, and attempt to lessen the burden of obstacles to health for all.”

While the latest U.S. suicide data are deeply troubling, there is a possibility for hope in the recognition that new approaches are needed, including an increased interest in centering lived experience perspectives. Australia has recently called for such an emphasis on what has been hailed “once in a generation reform.” Christine Morgan, the nation’s suicide prevention advisor, recently said in a press release:

“In talking to individuals and communities over the past six months, it has been clear to me that we need to co-design our suicide prevention approach in a way that is led by those with lived and living experience of suicide. 

We often think about services and systems and what is available, rather than truly understand what people need and what has worked, and not worked, for them in the past. We need to put people back at the center of policies and planning.”

Sources:

You can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, the Veterans Crisis Line at 800-273-8255 and pressing Option 1, the Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860 (U.S.) or 877-330-6366 (Canada), or The Trevor Project at 866-488-7386. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741. And warmline.org contains links to peer-run warmlines in every state. If you’re not in the U.S., click here for a link to crisis centers around the world.