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Youth suicide: Funding would prepare healthcare professionals for bigger role in prevention

Crystal Graham
teen girl with face in hands
(© Siphosethu Fanti/peopleimages.com – stock.adobe.com)

A bill has been introduced in the U.S. Congress aimed to fund suicide prevention initiatives for at-risk youth. Suicide rates among youth in America increased 52 percent between 2000 and 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Child Suicide Prevention and Lethal Means Safety Act would also ensure health care providers receive training to prevent intentional harm and create a centralized hub to provide safety information to youth and their support networks.

“In recent years, we’ve seen alarming spikes in anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges among the nation’s youth,” said U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), who introduced the legislation with U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI). “We must do more to expand access to mental health care and prevent youth suicide. This bill is critical to doing that by providing more training and resources for youth suicide prevention initiatives.”

The bill would prepare healthcare professionals to identify and respond to warning signs by training them in evidence-based suicide prevention practices including lethal means safety and providing funding to connect at-risk youth with crisis resources.

“We’ve introduced a bill that would do a couple of things. It would provide significant funding for public health agencies to develop suicide prevention programs focusing on young people,” said Kaine, on a conference call with members of the media on Tuesday. “It will also fund efforts among health educators, nursing schools, medical schools and other health educators to equip those training to enter the healing professions to recognize the signs, and then implement strategies … to reduce youth suicide.”

A June 2021 CDC report found a significant increase in emergency room visits for suicide attempts for ages 12-17 during the pandemic, including a spike of more than 50 percent for girls.

“We’ve seen increasing challenges with youth mental health and suicide issues,” said Kaine. “These issues have been increasing for a while, driven by a number of factors, whether it’s fentanyl, or whether it’s the prevalence of social media disinformation that has a particularly debilitating effect on youth mental health. But COVID, which was so isolating for young people, also really exacerbated these trends.”

Kaine said there is a significant need for help in rural America.

“These challenges are everywhere,” said Kaine, “but one of the issues that can be particularly difficult in rural areas is that we’re underresourced in terms of the number of behavioral health providers that we have. This was before COVID. And in some instances, the behavioral health providers who are trained to work with young people are even more in short supply. So, young people in rural areas often find it really difficult to access mental health care.”

Kaine said Congress has done some positive things in recent years to address youth mental health including a national mental health hotline and equalizing reimbursement rates for service providers offering telehealth.

“We want to fund the training programs for healthcare providers, doctors, nurses and others to make sure they can see signs and implement wise strategies, and then create this clearinghouse of information for people and make it available broadly so that folks don’t have to … look too hard to find it,” Kaine said. “We’ve got to make it readily available.”

The Child Suicide Prevention and Lethal Means Safety Act is supported by more than 30 organizations including the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Psychological Association, American Public Health Association, American Hospital Association, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, American Academy of Family Physicians, Federation of American Hospitals, Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, SMART Recovery, Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, Illinois Association for Behavioral Health, PA Education Association, Association for Behavioral & Cognitive Therapies, Newtown Action Alliance Foundation, National Association of Social Workers, Association of Maternal & Child Health Programs, Brady: United Against Gun Violence, Everytown for Gun Safety, Sandy Hook Promise, Illinois Chapter of American Academy of Pediatrics, Doc Wayne, American Association of Colleges of Nursing, March for Our Lives, Active Minds, Giffords, Council of Public Health Nursing Organizations, Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments, American Public Health Association – Public Health Nursing Section, Association of Community Health Nursing Educators, Association of Public Health Nurses, National Association of School Nurses, Rural Nurse Organization and National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners.

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Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.