Public Health

U.S. launches strategy to reduce suicide with the help of Facebook

Measure launched on World Suicide Prevention tracks the social network comments that indicate suicidal tendencies

Foto: US Mission Geneva
Kathleen Sebelius, secretária de Saúde dos EUA
Kathleen Sebelius, secretária de Saúde dos EUA

Today on World Suicide Prevention Day, the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention (Action Alliance) released an ambitious national strategy to reduce the number of deaths by suicide. The strategy was called for by Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and former Department of Defense Secretary Robert Gates when they launched the Action Alliance on Sept. 10, 2010. The 2012 National Strategy for Suicide Prevention, a report from the U.S. Surgeon General and the Action Alliance, details 13 goals and 60 objectives for reducing suicides over the next 10 years.

The Action Alliance, co-chaired by Gordon Smith, chief executive of the National Association of Broadcasters, and Army Secretary John McHugh, highlights four immediate priorities to reduce the number of suicides: integrating suicide prevention into health care policies; encouraging the transformation of health care systems to prevent suicide; changing the way the public talks about suicide and suicide prevention; and improving the quality of data on suicidal behaviors to develop increasingly effective prevention efforts.

The Obama Administration also announced a series of activities that will help prevent suicide:

· Secretary Sebelius announced $55.6 million in new grants for national, state, tribal, campus and community suicide prevention programs made possible under the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act and partially funded by the Prevention and Public Health Fund under the Affordable Care Act, the health care law enacted in 2010.

· The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) launched, Stand by Them: Help a Veteran, a joint VA-Department of Defense (DoD) outreach campaign that includes a new public service announcement, Side by Side, designed to help prevent suicide among veterans and servicemembers and focuses on the important role family and community play in supporting Veterans in crisis. Throughout September and beyond, VA and DoD are urging community-based organizations, Veterans Service Organizations, health care providers, private companies and other government agencies to connect Veterans and Service members in need of assistance to the Veterans Crisis Line (1-800-273-8255, press 1). Additionally, as directed by President Obama' s Mental Health Executive Order issued August 31st, VA is also increasing the workforce of the Crisis Line by 50% and hiring 1,600 new mental health professionals.

" Our message today is one of hope," Secretary Sebelius said. " The national strategy will bring together the nation' s resources, both public and private, in an organized effort to provide life saving services and improve the ability of individuals, friends and family members to recognize the warning signs of despair and take action to save lives."

" By implementing this plan, we will engage diverse sectors of our communities, from health care systems and policy-makers to the media and public," said Gordon Smith, a former U.S. senator from Oregon. " It will take all of our efforts to win this fight against suicide that touches so many American lives."

VA Deputy Secretary W. Scott Gould said, " All of us working together - friends, family, neighbors, the public and the private sector - can make a difference for Service members and Veterans transitioning back into their communities. Recognizing the warning signs of suicide and knowing where to turn for help will save lives."

Army Secretary McHugh commented on the impact of suicide on the military community in particular. " Suicide is one of the most challenging issues we face," he said. " In the Army, suicide prevention requires soldiers to look out for fellow soldiers. We must foster an environment that encourages people in need to seek help and be supported."

Suicide is a public health issue that results in an average of 100 American deaths each day, more than double the average number of homicides. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), more that 8 million adults in the United States had serious thoughts of suicide within the past 12 months.

The first National Strategy for Suicide Prevention was launched in 2001 by then-Surgeon General David Satcher. The progress achieved over the years, the significant advances in knowledge, research and practice of preventing suicide, and public comment informed the development of the new Strategy by the Action Alliance. Since the development of the first strategy, more than 100 best practices in suicide prevention are now documented and form the foundation of the new strategy.

" The latest research shows that suicide is preventable, suicidal behaviors are treatable, and the support of families, friends, and colleagues are critical protective factors. Suicide prevention needs to be addressed in the comprehensive, coordinated way outlined in the national strategy," said Surgeon General Regina M. Benjamin. Dr. Benjamin also released a new public service announcement promoting the national suicide prevention line 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

The Action Alliance is composed of approximately 200 public- and private- sector organizations united by a common vision of a nation free from the tragic experience of suicide. One of the private sector partners, Facebook is supporting the strategy by harnessing the power of social networking and crisis support to help prevent suicides across the nation.

"All too often, people in crisis do not know how or who to ask for help," said Facebook' s Global VP for Public Policy, Marne Levine. " At Facebook, we have a unique opportunity to provide the right resources to our users in distress, when and where they need them most. By enabling connection to trained and caring professionals around the world, we can do our part to let users know help is available. Through a concerted and coordinated effort on the part of private industry, government, and concerned family and friends, we can make a real difference in preventing suicide and saving lives."