SEN. CHARLES E. Schumer

Schumer: Boost funds for suicide prevention

Published Jun 12, 2018 at 4:00pm

On the heels of a new federal study that shows suicide rates getting worse in America, U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer says that the federal government has actually been flat-funding critical suicide prevention funds and grant programs for the past several years.

Schumer cited the new Center for Disease Control (CDC) statistics on suicide and the flat-funded programs as he made the case for a new federal focus and ramp-up of suicide prevention dollars on Monday.

“Statistics show that if we can reach troubled people before, even in the midst of suicide ideation, there is a good chance they can be helped,” the senate minority leader said. “We must do better.”

According to the new CDC study, suicide rates increased in nearly every state from 1999 through 2016 and in 2016, nearly 45,000 Americans age 10 or older died by suicide. The report said that suicide is among the leading causes of death in the U.S.. According to the report, New York saw a 30 percent rise from 199-2016 in its suicide rate, and a New Yorker takes their own life every five hours.

The CDC says suicide is rarely caused by a single factor and that suicide prevention efforts largely focus on identifying and supporting people at risk. However, Schumer revealed today that the federal funding for these types of programs has lagged for years.

Since as far back as 2013, Schumer said some of the most critical federal programs have gone stagnant in terms of their federal funding. Schumer pointed to three main programs: First, the Garrett Lee Smith (GLS) Suicide Prevention State Grants, which have been funded at $35.427 million since 2013. The grants are named after Sen. Gordon Smith’s son, who was lost to suicide in 2003. This federal pot of dollars includes $23 million in discretionary federal dollars that can be used by states in a variety of ways—from mental health counseling to outreach on college campuses and in communities. And  $12 million in prevention and public health dollars that go towards anything from education to counseling. Schumer said that in 2015, 18 percent of high school students seriously considered suicide, significantly up for 14 percent in 2009.

The second program Schumer referenced was federal funding for Suicide LifelineSince 2013, the 24-hour, toll-free, confidential hotline has received roughly $7 million dollars a year. According to the program, it has helped more than 6 million people since its inception in January 2005 and is available to people from anywhere in the U.S. The Lifeline’s network of more than 160 crisis centers is something Schumer says should be further invested in so that more people can be reached. Schumer said that experts believe that the decision to kill oneself is often fast and impulsive, with as little as 5-10 minutes between the decision and the attempt.

The third program Schumer referenced was federal funding for the GLS Suicide Prevention Resource Center. The center is the hub for national strategy to prevent suicide. The center works with states and colleges to lead programs, training and direct federal resources that can be used by caregivers and professionals on the ground level in American cities. Since 2013, the program has been flat-funded with roughly $5.9 million dollars.

According to the CDC, states and communities can do the following things to help combat this rise in suicide numbers, but Schumer said these things, the kind of outreach below, requires robust federal investment:

  • Identify and support people at risk of suicide;
  • Teach coping and problem-solving skills to help people manage challenges with their relationships, jobs, health, or other concerns;
  • Promote safe and supportive environments. This includes safely storing medications and firearms to reduce access among people at risk;
  • Offer activities that bring people together so they feel connected and not alone;
  • Connect people at risk to effective and coordinated mental and physical healthcare; and
  • Expand options for temporary help for those struggling to make ends meet.