1/15/2020 — 

WASHINGTON, DC – In an effort to save lives and help people in crisis, U.S. Senator Reed today announced over $3.6 million in federal funding for Rhode Island through the Garrett Lee Smith Suicide Prevention Grant and introduced new legislation aimed at expanding effective suicide prevention strategies.

The Garrett Lee Smith Suicide Prevention Grant, which Senator Reed helped create through The Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act -- the first federal law to provide specific funding for youth suicide prevention programs - seeks to improve access to counseling for at-risk teens and promotes the development of statewide strategies for early intervention and suicide prevention.  This five year federal grant will help fund the Rhode Island Youth Suicide Prevention Project (RIYSPP) through 2025.  RIYSPP implements evidence-based suicide prevention education programs in selected public schools and community-based organizations that serve adolescents and their families.  The project provides a safety net for at risk youth by instituting screening, identification, and referral protocols, training gatekeepers, integrating suicide prevention into college curricula, and providing a media campaign about who is at risk and how to respond.

In addition to Garret Lee Smith funding, RIYSPP is supported by a grant from the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) with funding from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

“The rate of suicides in this country is staggering and we need an evidence-based approach to identify people at-risk and successful intervention strategies to help them.  Many young people who commit suicide have a treatable mental illness, but don't get the help they need.  These federal funds will help expand effective education, outreach, and prevention strategies so at-risk youth can get help before it is too late,” said Senator Reed, who today introduced the bipartisan Suicide Prevention Act, to improve suicide data collection and fund additional resources to train emergency careworkers in suicide prevention strategies.

Reed’s bill, which is cosponsored by U.S. Senator John Kennedy (R-LA), would authorize funding for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to partner with state and local health departments to improve surveillance of suicide attempts and other incidences of self-harm.  Current data collection efforts regarding suicide are often years after the fact, which limits the ability of state and local health departments, as well as community organizations, to recognize trends early and intervene.  This new effort would enhance data collection and sharing, as appropriate, in real time to help save lives. 

The Suicide Prevention Act would also help prevent suicide among emergency department patients.  According to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, approximately 37 percent of individuals who die by suicide visit an emergency department in the year prior to their death.  This bill would authorize funding for a new SAMSHA grant program to fund suicide prevention programs in emergency departments to better train staff in suicide prevention strategies, screen at-risk patients, and refer patients to appropriate follow-up care. 

The legislation would also require SAMHSA to develop best practices for such programs, so that health care providers are able to provide their patients with the best possible care and advice.  The bill has been endorsed by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the American Psychiatric Association. 

Companion legislation to the Suicide Prevention Act is being introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Representatives Chris Stewart (R-UT), Doris Matsui (D-CA), and David Cicilline (D-RI)

“Every three days, a Rhode Islander takes their own life. This is an urgent crisis that government has to address,” said Congressman Cicilline. “This funding will make new resources available to help individuals in our state who are struggling with suicidal thoughts. I was proud to work with Senator Reed to secure this critical grant for Rhode Island.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide is the second leading cause of death among people ages 10 through 34 and the fourth leading cause of death among ages 35 through 54.  And the latest statistics from the National Association of Mental Health show that in 2017, there were more than twice as many suicides (47,173) in the United States as there were homicides (19,510).  That same year, 15.9 percent of surveyed Rhode Island high school students stated they had considered suicide, according to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey.

On average, there are 129 suicides per day nationwide.  The three-year average (2016-2018) for suicide deaths in Rhode Island is 121.  And on a national level, the suicide rate among teenagers and young adults spiked in the decade between 2007 and 2017, jumping more than 50 percent.  Suicide is the second leading cause of death among teens aged 15 to 19 behind accidents.

Earlier this year, Senator Reed, along with Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), and Jerry Moran (R-KS), introduced the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act to designate a three-digit phone number for a national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline and ensure states have the flexibility to strengthen local crisis call centers.  The current National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and Veterans Crisis line are 10-digits, which is a barrier to Americans in crisis seeking support.

The National Suicide Hotline Designation Act directs the FCC to designate 9-8-8 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.  This line would include the Veterans Crisis Line for veteran-specific mental health support.  Additionally, the legislation will authorize the ability of states to collect fees to ensure local call centers are able to support increased volume.

Last month, the FCC voted in favor of designating 9-8-8 for the National Suicide Hotline.  The FCC vote marks the start of a months-long phase to make the 9-8-8 proposal a reality.  The next step is a public comment period before the FCC moves to an order.

“The suicide prevention hotline is a real life saver and I am pleased the FCC is moving forward with our bipartisan proposal to create a simple, a three-digit phone number that people may call in times of crisis.  A nationwide, three-digit number for suicide prevention and mental health crises will connect people with the specialized help they need, when they need it,” said Senator Reed.

If you or someone you know may be struggling with suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (800) 273-TALK or (800) 273-8255, or visit www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org or call 401-414-LINK (5465) or visit www.BHLink.org or The Samaritans of Rhode Island at (401) 272-4044 or (800) 365-4044 or visit www.samaritansri.org.