CounselorsEmpowerACA Government Affairs Blog

The ACA Government Affairs team strives to keep the counseling community connected with important legislative news, updates, and announcements that affect the profession. Questions? Want to get involved in our advocacy efforts? Email us at advocacy@counseling.org 


 

Sep 3, 2020

Suicide Prevention Policy During COVID and Beyond

On August 6, 2020, the former First Lady, Michelle Obama, revealed to the world that like many of us, she is suffering from depression due to the global pandemic, racial strife in the U.S., and the current state of politics. According to data shared by the United States Department of Health Human Services, the majority of people who have depression do not die by suicide nor suffer from chronic suicidal ideation. However, major depression is a risk factor for suicide. To measure the impact of COVID-19 on mental health in America, the National Center for Health Statistics has partnered with the Census Bureau on a new data collection project, the Household Pulse Survey. The study found that Americans were reporting a rate of depression three times higher than what was reported in 2019. Awareness of the social determinants of suicide and suicide prevention efforts have rarely been so important.  

The American Counseling Association (ACA) is dedicated to supporting the counseling profession in its efforts to address and prevent suicide. For the past several years, ACA has worked tirelessly to promote a policy agenda that includes and highlights suicide prevention initiatives throughout the country. In late 2019, Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) introduced the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act (S.2661) with overwhelming support of the counseling community and with the guidance of ACA policy staff who worked in coalition with national allies to elevate the voice of counselors throughout the process. Additionally, a companion bill was introduced to the House of Representatives, H.R.4194, by Representative Chris Stewart (R-UT). Prior to S.2661, Congress directed the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to assess the need for and the impact of an easy-to-use three-digit National Suicide Prevention Hotline. The FCC released their report last August with an affirmative recommendation, finding that an easy-to-use national hotline would reduce fatalities across the United States.

Due in part to these collaborative efforts and the resulting national discourse, the FCC adopted new rules to establish ‘988’ as the nationwide phone number for suicide prevention support on July 16, 2020. The new easy-to-use hotline will link Americans in crisis with mental health crisis counselors. The new ‘988’ hotline will be available for use beginning on July 16, 2022. For now, Americans who need help should continue to contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling 1-800-273-8255 (1-800-273-TALK).

ACA continues to advocate on critical legislation for suicide prevention. Recently, ACA collaborated with national mental health and education nonprofits on efforts to promote and move forward Congressmen Scott Peters’ (D-CA) and Gus Bilirakis’ (R-FL) bipartisan H.R.7293, the Suicide Training and Awareness Nationally Delivered for UniversalPrevention (STANDUP) Act. This legislation will help prevent youth suicides by encouraging local, state, and tribal education agencies to implement student suicide awareness and prevention training policies for grades six through twelve. ACA’s letter to Congress in support of this legislation highlighted that since 2010, suicide has been the second-leading cause of death for young Americans ages 10-24. A recent study by ‘Trust for America’s Health and Well Being’ found that adolescent suicide rates for young people ages 12-19 increased by 87% from 2007 to 2017.

Understandably, COVID-19 has heightened concerns around the mental health of Americans. According to the Well Being Trust, an approximately 75,000 additional suicides are estimated to be associated with COVID-19. The data shows that this will impact marginalized and at-risk youth the most, including Black/African American youth, LGBTQ youth, ethnic minorities, foster youth, and low-income youth. Studies of previous pandemics, such as the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), have shown that children experience increased levels of anxiety and stress from the public health strategies designed to address pandemics, such as social isolation. It is incumbent upon us to provide support for young individuals facing unprecedented difficulties during this pandemic.

For more information on the American Counseling Association’s work to promote suicide prevention legislation and policy, please visit our Government Affairs web page and subscribe to our updates.

 

 

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