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The Latest in Suicide Prevention: How to Help Patients in Crisis in 2020


National suicide prevention programs will get a much-needed boost from the federal government in the new year. Suicide also continues to be an international problem. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that around one million people die from suicide each year. Rising economic and political uncertainty, globalization, substance abuse, and a systemic lack of access to mental health services may all be to blame, but here in the U.S., the federal government is trying to do a better job of counseling those considering suicide.

As we head further into 2020, take a look at how suicide prevention will change in the months and years to come.

How Suicide Prevention Will Change in 2020

Today, if someone is considering taking their own life, they can call the existing Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK. The Hotline is made up of over a hundred call centers scattered across the country. When the person dials the call, they’ll be connected to a suicide prevention professional or a volunteer. If the call center is currently unavailable, due to staff shortages, power outages, and other unforeseen circumstances, the caller will be rerouted to another center within the network.

The Hotline sees about a 15% increase in calls every year, and keeping up with demand can be a tall order in some parts of the country. This year, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline will get an extra $7 million to help manage all these incoming calls.

However, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is taking things one step further. Instead of the existing 1-800 number, the new number for the hotline will be 9-8-8. From the caller’s perspective, remembering three digits is much easier than remembering 10. The numbers 9-1-1 have become ubiquitous throughout American culture, and the Hotline is hoping to do the same thing for suicide prevention.

The National Hotline will use the added funds to help spread the word about the new 9-8-8 number, so mental health and care professionals can better advise their patients if they are experiencing a crisis.

However, the new 9-8-8 number may not be ready in 2020. There are currently two bills moving through Congress that would officially switch the national hotline number to 9-8-8. The Federal Communications Commission is also working out the logistics of switching the number.

Why the U.S. Government Is Getting More Involved

While an extra $7 million for suicide prevention may seem like a drop in the bucket compared to the rest of the federal budget, suicide remains a costly concern here in the U.S. Suicide rates continue to climb year after year for virtually every demographic, particularly middle-aged Caucasians and those over the age of 85. Suicide rates in the U.S. have climbed 33% over the last 20 years. Suicide remains the 10th leading cause of death in the county, and suicide and self-injuries ended up costing the U.S. a whopping $69 billion in 2015.

In light of the opioid epidemic and new statistics that show life expectancy rates declining for most middle-age Americans, the U.S. is trying to stop more Americans from taking their own lives. Compared to other nations, including China, Russia, and most of Western Europe, the U.S. has a much higher suicide rate. In contrast, across the globe, living conditions have generally improved, while the rate of suicide has fallen.

While the exact causes of suicide here in the U.S. are not always clear, many in the healthcare community have started refering to the rising number of suicides as “deaths of despair”. Middle-aged Americans were once excited about the future, but now the majority feels that that future has largely vanished into thin air. Many have still not recovered from the 2008 financial crisis. Further economic and political instability have likely only made matters worse.

Other Ways to Prevent Suicide

When looking at other countries, the U.S. may need to do more than just beef up the National Suicide Prevention Hotline if it wants to reduce the number of people who take their own life. For example, limiting access to firearms and toxic substances may help reduce the number of suicides. Here in the U.S., firearms are responsible for more than half of all suicide deaths, and there’s evidence that when access to guns goes down, so do suicide deaths.

Increasing access to mental health services may also help reverse these trends in the U.S. Suicide rates tend to be particularly high in rural areas where mental health services tend to be scarce. The U.S. could also spend more money on mental health and suicide research as a way of combating these so-called “deaths of despair.” For example, Japan’s suicide rates fell after mandating that detailed, municipal-level suicide statistics be released every month.

The U.S. still has a long way to go when it comes to suicide prevention. While giving more money to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is a step in the right direction, more needs to be done. If some of your patients are thinking of taking their own lives, help them find the support they need.


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