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National Strategy for Suicide Prevention

September 10, 2012
Washington, DC

Thank you, Pam for that kind introduction.  And thank you all for joining us for this important event.

This strategy wouldn’t have been possible without the important contributions of many leaders here today, from inside and outside government.  And I want to begin by acknowledging a few people:

  • Surgeon General Benjamin and Dr. Jerry Reed, Director of the Suicide Prevention Resource Center who led the work to revise and update the National Strategy.
  • Former Senator Gordon Smith and Secretary of the Army John McHugh for their tremendous work as co-chairs of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention.
  • All the private sector leaders here today, including the CEO of Value Options Heyward Donigan and Marne Levine from Facebook who you’ll hear from later.
  • And two leaders in our department – Pam and Jon Blum, who’s here representing the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services – whose agencies have contributed so much to this important work.

We are here today because we all have a role to play in preventing our friends, family members, colleagues, and neighbors from reaching the point where they think there is no hope and take their own lives.

And that work has never been more critical than it is today.  In the 1990s, we saw a slow but steady decline in the number of Americans lost to suicide.  But since then, suicide rates have begun to rise once again.

Today, suicide is the third-leading cause of death for young people age 15 to 24.  And we’ve seen especially alarming trends in our Armed Forces.  Just this July, the Army lost 38 soldiers to suicide, an all time one-month high.

These deaths are especially heartbreaking because we know they are preventable.

That’s why two years ago today, then-Defense Secretary Gates and I launched the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention.

Under the leadership of Senator Smith and Secretary McHugh, the Alliance brought together leading experts and advocates from the private and philanthropic sectors, health care providers, public officials, business and faith leaders, other Federal Departments, and the Armed Forces.

Together, they helped shape a new National Strategy for Suicide Prevention that acknowledges the specific roles each part of a community can play in preventing suicide.  And it identifies the areas where collaboration can make the biggest difference.

Already, the Action Alliance has galvanized over 200 leaders from the public and private sector to join forces and do their part to fulfill the Alliance’s goal of a nation free from the tragic experience of suicide.

And as private partners step up to the plate, our department will also continue to do its part.  Today, I’m proud to announce nearly $56 million in new grants to support the National Strategy.  As part of the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act, named for Senator Smith’s son, Garrett, these grants will help expand state, tribal, and community suicide prevention efforts.

Our department also continues to support the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and to partner with the VA on the Veterans Crisis Line.  These lines allow people all over the United States and in some overseas locations to call at any time – day or night – to get help when they need it.

Finally, we’re also making sure that suicide prevention is part of our broader efforts to improve health care in America.  For example, a couple weeks ago, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced new standards that doctors will have to meet to earn certain incentive payments.  And we made sure that providing people who have major depression with a suicide risk assessment was included as one of those standards.

Beginning last year, Medicare also began covering an annual preventive screening for depression, which is especially important since older Americans have the highest rate of death by suicide.

In the past, we’ve often treated mental health and substance abuse as personal issues that individuals must overcome on their own or with a health care provider.  But addressing these conditions are just as important to our country as addressing any other health issue, whether it’s childhood obesity, hypertension, or HIV/AIDS.  And just like these public health issues, we must tackle suicide together, as a community.

That’s why this strategy contains information about how each of us can make a difference.  That starts with reducing the prejudice against, and misunderstanding around mental health issues.  It also means having the courage to ask an important question to anyone showing signs of distress: Are you thinking of hurting yourself?  This simple act can start the kind of conversations that save lives.

We have a long way to go to achieve our ultimate goal of a nation free from the tragic experience of suicide.  But thanks to this strategy and all the partners who have committed to implementing it, we have a clear roadmap for getting there.