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University of Oklahoma assists in New National Suicide Prevention Plan

Shelby Rowe, second from right, executive director of the Suicide Prevention Resource Center at the University of Oklahoma, speaks at a White House panel discussion Tuesday with actress Ashley Judd, second from left, and singer-songwriter Aloe Blacc, right. The discussion, facilitated by U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, M.D., MBA, left, was held to mark the release of the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention.
Photo: University of Oklahoma

The Biden-Harris Administration, through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, announced its federal action plan to carry out the work of the new National Strategy for Suicide Prevention — a structure developed with expertise from the University of Oklahoma.

In 2020, OU was awarded a $38 million federal grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to lead the Suicide Prevention Resource Center. The SPRC provides technical assistance, training and resources to help states, tribes, communities, providers, practitioners and members of the public on suicide prevention strategies and best practices to address the issue of suicide.

Subsequently, a supplement was awarded to OU to help develop the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention. The SPRC is the only federally supported resource center devoted to advancing the implementation of the suicide prevention plan.

“The National Strategy for Suicide Prevention will provide a roadmap of what people and organizations can do to implement prevention strategies so that if you’re at a community level, like the Boys and Girls Club, or you’re a state suicide prevention coordinator, or a national suicide nonprofit, you can look at this and align your work to these goals and objectives,” said Shelby Rowe, MBA, executive director of the SPRC and a staff member in the OU College of Medicine.

The National Strategy for Suicide Prevention was originally released in 2001 and last updated in 2012. Leading the development of the 2024 strategy are the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in partnership with the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention. An interagency work group comprised of over 20 agencies in 10 federal government departments contributed to the development of the national strategy. The action plan will support the Biden-Harris Administration’s priorities to address the overdose and mental health crises.

“We are pleased to release this National Strategy for Suicide Prevention, updated for the first time in more than a decade, with the best knowledge and practices to date that we have to offer,” said HHS Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use Miriam E. Delphin-Rittmon, Ph.D., the leader of SAMHSA. “The need for this strategy is reflected in the heart-breaking and alarmingly high statistics surrounding suicide and suicidal ideation. This strategy is the product of an ongoing commitment, and we stand, hand-in-hand with people with lived experience, federal and private sector partners, and everyone committed to this work that will ultimately save lives.”

More than 49,000 people in the United States died by suicide in 2022. That’s one death every 11 minutes. The problem is particularly stark among youth. In 2021, 22% of high school students seriously considered suicide, with nearly 1 in 10 having attempted suicide. Populations disproportionately affected include veterans, certain racial and ethnic groups, people with disabilities, LGBTQ+ populations, youth, middle-aged and older adults, individuals with serious mental illness, and certain occupational groups, among others. For example, between 2018 and 2021, suicide rates rapidly increased among non-Hispanic Black or African American populations ages 10–24 (+36.6% increase) and 25-44 years (+22.9%), non-Hispanic American Indian and Alaska Native populations ages 25-44 (+33.7%), non-Hispanic multiracial populations ages 25-44 years (+20.6%), and Hispanic populations ages 25-44 years (+19.4%).

To address the public health crisis, the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention takes a comprehensive, whole-of-society approach. The strategy outlines concrete recommendations for addressing gaps and meeting the needs of at-risk populations. The accompanying federal action plan identifies 200 actions to be initiated and evaluated over the next three years. Actions include identifying ways to address substance use and suicide risk together in the clinical setting, funding a mobile crisis locator for use by 988 crisis centers, increasing support for survivors of suicide loss and others whose lives have been affected by suicide, and evaluating promising community-based suicide prevention strategies. Each of these actions will be monitored and evaluated regularly to determine progress and success, and to further identify barriers to successful suicide prevention.

For the first time, the nation’s suicide prevention strategy will include a pillar prioritizing equity, an essential requirement to meet the specific and urgent need to address populations disproportionately impacted by suicide.

This coordinated and comprehensive approach to suicide prevention at the national, state, tribal, local and territorial levels relies upon critical partnerships across the public and private sectors. To ensure effective actions are advanced in accordance with the federal action plan, people with lived experience have been and remain critical to the implementation of this strategy.

Rowe said the SPRC has worked diligently over the past 18 months to help develop tools for states and communities to implement this national strategy. “There are dozens of objectives. We work to help them make it actionable – define your goals, pick the top three for your community. Most of the state suicide prevention plans around the country are based on the national strategy, so this new document will trigger updates of the state strategies for suicide prevention for all 50 states,” she said.

To learn more about the 2024 National Strategy for Suicide Prevention and Federal Action Plan, visit www.hhs.gov/nssp. To read about the work of the SPRC, visit sprc.org.

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