HARRISBURG – Members of Gov. Tom Wolf’s health agencies, including the departments of Human Services and Health on Thursay held the first meeting of Pennsylvania’s Suicide Prevention Task Force and announced receipt of a $3.68 million federal grant for youth suicide prevention.
“Working together to prevent suicide is of paramount importance to all Pennsylvanians,” Wolf said. “By convening the Suicide Prevention Task Force today and on a regular basis, we are gathering the right people and organizations to listen, collect information and take action toward making a real difference in reducing incidents of suicide.”
The meeting brought together representatives from more than ten state agencies, including DHS Sec. Teresa Miller; DOH Sec. Dr. Rachel Levine; legislative co-chair, Rep. Mike Schlossberg; and members of the General Assembly and Prevent Suicide PA to discuss the state of suicide prevention efforts around the commonwealth, the data needs to better inform prevention efforts, and opportunities for public engagement as the task force works to develop a comprehensive suicide prevention plan that represents Pennsylvania’s diverse communities and the common and unique challenges faced.
The meeting focused on establishing a series of listening sessions around the state to hear from individuals and families affected by suicide; reviewing current prevention efforts; and identifying opportunities for National Suicide Prevention Month in September.
“Suicide can affect anyone at any point, and it is not limited to individuals with a known mental health diagnosis,” Miller said. “It is imperative that we consider diverse personal, socio-economic, geographic perspectives and experiences so that the task force’s work is an accurate representation of Pennsylvania. Since the task force’s initial announcement, we’ve heard from many people looking to share their personal stories to raise awareness, combat stigma, and help prevent suicide however they can. These voices will shape and strengthen a plan that can help the state and its partners do more to prevent suicide.”
“As a pediatrician and adolescent medicine specialist, I have seen the effect that mental health issues and thoughts of suicide can have on a young person’s health,” Levine said. “It is essential that we engage with the public to increase prevention and treatment efforts across Pennsylvania to help address the public health issue of suicide. Together, we have the opportunity to make a difference and help save lives that are cut short far too early.”
During the meeting Sec. Miller announced a federal grant totaling $3.68 million over five years that will support efforts to prevent suicide among Pennsylvania’s youth. The 2017 Pennsylvania Youth Survey revealed that 16.5 percent of Pennsylvania middle and high school students had seriously considered suicide, and 9.7 percent attempted suicide one or more times within the past 12 months. The grant aims to empower communities throughout the commonwealth to implement a multi-component approach to identify, assess, and treat youth at risk of suicide.
The grant, “The PA Resource for Continuity of Care in Youth-Serving Systems and Transitions,” was awarded by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to support youth suicide prevention efforts in K-12 schools, colleges, and health care settings around Pennsylvania.
The funding will support increasing capacity and growing the work of existing suicide prevention efforts lead by DHS’ Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, including expanding the Suicide Prevention Online Learning Center, working with staff in schools, colleges, and primary care settings to identify risk of suicide, and engaging behavioral health providers trained in suicide-risk management and families to help screen and assess risk of suicide and ensure youth needing support are properly connected to treatment resources.
Over the five years of the grant, DHS will also target five Pennsylvania regions for focused implementation of evidence-based suicide prevention strategies based on available data (e.g., suicide rates, prevalence of youth-reported ideation and attempts) and readiness (e.g., local infrastructure, partnerships) to improve care transitions for youth at risk of suicide. They will support a broader goal of developing systems and partnerships that promote a better continuity of care for youth entering and leaving a hospital or behavioral health treatment center. Counties identified in the five regions will be announced as they are determined.
“With this federal grant and the efforts of the Task Force, we are committed to supporting and expanding prevention and screening efforts and bridging gaps in services to ensure that no child, no young adult, no Pennsylvanian feels disconnected from the care and support they need and deserve,” Wolf said.
For more information on Pennsylvania’s Suicide Prevention Task Force and upcoming public meetings or listening sessions, visit www.dhs.pa.gov.