The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Office of the Surgeon General (OSG)—in collaboration with the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention (Action Alliance)—released The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Implement the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention. This new report outlines the actions that communities and individuals can take to reduce the rates of suicide and help improve resilience.
Suicide is one of the 10 leading causes of death in the U.S., claiming more than 47,000 lives in 2019 alone, and the rates of suicide have risen more than 30 percent between 1999-2019. With so many individuals facing economic hardship and social isolation as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, many Americans are indicating increased mental health concerns. And while we don’t know yet what, if any, impact the pandemic will have on suicide rates, the time to act is now.
“Americans have faced unprecedented hardship in the past months, but by focusing daily on caring for our own emotional well-being and supporting the well-being of those we love, we can successfully mitigate the mental health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Surgeon General Jerome Adams. “Although this is a difficult time in our nation’s history, I remain steadfast in encouraging Americans to use healthy mechanisms to cope. If we all step into this challenge, we will limit emotional suffering, save lives and lay the foundation for a healthier nation going forward.”
The goal of the Call to Action is to broaden perceptions of suicide, who is affected, and of the many factors that can affect suicide risk. There are a variety of influences at the individual, relationship, community, and societal levels that can increase suicide risk or precipitate a crisis, including social isolation, relationship problems, the loss of a loved one, and legal or financial issues. This Call to Action is intended to expand the national narrative to include the environmental factors in addition to the individual factors contributing to suicide.
The Surgeon General’s Call to Action summarizes the protective factors that can help prevent suicide. These include:
- Help other people build life skills (e.g., coping, problem solving) and resilience
- Increase social connectedness and support
- Identify and support people at risk
- Support lethal means safety
- Support access to effective care
- Seek help, support, and care when experiencing suicidal thoughts
- Support individuals who have been affected by a suicide attempt or death
“Every sector of society must come together to make suicide prevention a national priority. The time to act is now,” said Colleen Carr, Director of the Action Alliance, housed at the Education Development Center. “This Call to Action is a step towards fully implementing the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention, which serves as the nation’s roadmap for suicide prevention and which the Action Alliance is tasked with advancing. Together with our public and private sector partners, we are committed to working across sectors and industries to achieve our ultimate vision—a nation free from the tragedy of suicide.”
It’s important to note that suicide is not only a mental health problem, but is also a public health problem. And while progress has been made in raising awareness around mental health and suicide prevention in the past few years, unfortunately, suicide is still heavily stigmatized.
For immediate help with thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for free resources.