New year, new data-driven goals for suicide prevention

It’s that time of the year again, where we reflect on the past twelve months and make New Year’s resolutions. In the suicide prevention field, we look towards 2017 while learning from new data, ideas, and tools.

Washington State has made some incredible strides with suicide prevention in the past year. Notably, in the past legislative session Forefront helped pass HB 2793, a bill which resulted in suicide prevention trainings with firearm retailers and pharmacists with the goal of decreasing suicides by firearms and poison (such as prescription drugs), which account for 70% of suicides in Washington State.

There’s still much work left to do in the year ahead — and more innovations on the way. In The Push for Suicide Prevention, National Institute of Mental Health director Joshua Gordon recently discussed new data-driven methods for suicide prevention:

Learn from motor vehicle accident prevention

Noting that death by suicide has now exceeded death by motor vehicle accidents for U.S. children aged 10-14 years for the first time in history, Gordon points out that “the reduction in automobile accidents is due, in large part, to successful prevention efforts, like improved structural design and additional safety features. I believe the time is right for a similar push for suicide prevention.”

He believes that if we use similar efforts for suicide prevention, then suicide rates may also have the same potential to decline.

Identify more at-risk patients in healthcare settings  

Aside from Gordon’s top piece of advice about reducing access to means such as firearms, Gordon also looks into having more suicide prevention efforts built into healthcare locations. This could have “tremendous impact,” he said, as data shows that about half of all suicide victims were seen in healthcare settings within the preceding 30 days, he said.

The Mental Health Research Network, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Institute of Mental Health have created a study called the Suicide Prevention Outreach Trial (SPOT) aimed at identifying potential suicide victims within patients in healthcare settings.

Other studies have also been done in emergency room settings to identify potential suicide victims, and have been shown to be effective in reducing suicides.

Apply and test evidence-based prevention strategies

After identifying individuals at risk for suicide, it’s critical that we are ready to take the next steps to prevent as many suicides as possible. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, “simply applying evidence-based practices has the potential to reduce the national suicide rate by as much as 20 percent.”

So in Washington State, we can aim to have more trials and studies that strive to treat potential suicide victims with screenings, referrals, follow-ups, and having more safety plans in place.

As Gordon pointed out, the more we test out different studies, the more potential we have to reduce suicides. Similarly, for HB 2793, Forefront is testing how effective the safe storage devices and medical disposal kits are, in combination with suicide prevention trainings in areas with high suicide rates.

Data-driven solutions tested in real-world settings continues to be one of Forefront’s many goals for 2017, and in every year to follow.