The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services’ (DHS) Suicide Prevention Task Force completed the statewide listening sessions held throughout fall 2019 and compiled their finding into an initial report. The work of the task force is a complement to the goals and strategies surrounding the governor’s Reach Out PA: Your Mental Health Matters initiative announced earlier this month and his executive order to protect vulnerable populations signed last year. Informed by the testimonies and suggestions of people affected by suicide, mental health professionals, and other stakeholders from across the commonwealth, the report will be used to develop a comprehensive, long-term strategy for significantly reducing the number of suicides in Pennsylvania.
Feedback from Listening Sessions
In August, the task force announced a series of 10 public listening sessions to be hosted throughout Pennsylvania. Over the next several months, Pennsylvanians gathered to talk about how suicide has affected their lives to help inform the task force’s draft prevention plan and work to reduce stigma around discussing topics such as mental health and suicide. More than 800 people — community members, state and local officials, representatives from county suicide prevention organizations, and stakeholders from other sectors of government — attended the sessions.
As a direct result of these listening sessions, the Suicide Prevention Task Force has identified the following key themes to inform the commonwealth’s four-year suicide prevention strategy:
- The stigma associated with mental health, suicide, and suicide attempts can affect the likelihood of individuals seeking help or continuing treatment, and how policymakers make decisions that affect mental health systems.
- Resources needed to elevate mental health as a public health issue, incentivize the integration of physical and behavioral health, and improve suicide prevention resources at the local level.
- Barriers to treatment, such as cost and insurance gaps.
- Access to more detailed suicide and suicide attempt data to help policymakers make effective, meaningful decisions.
- Issues within the mental health workforce, such as pay and barriers to entry, to improve quality of care.
- With proper resources, Pennsylvania’s schools and educators are uniquely positioned to save lives with suicide prevention strategies and resources.
The Legislature could take direct action to prevent suicides through the passage of a Red Flag Law (to provide a means to remove firearms from someone at risk for suicide) or safe storage requirements for firearms.
Suicide Prevention Plan
The task force anticipates releasing a comprehensive four-year statewide suicide prevention plan in the first quarter of 2020 that will be available for a public comment period. Following updates based on public comment, the task force will publish the final 2020-2024 Pennsylvania statewide suicide prevention plan, which will include:
- The landscape and gap analysis of detailed suicide statistics nationwide and in Pennsylvania.
- Guiding principles for suicide prevention in Pennsylvania.
- Goals and objectives to reduce suicide and suicide attempts in Pennsylvania, including reducing the stigma associated with suicide, suicide attempts, and mental health challenges.
- Recommendations for local and state policymakers, including public and elected officials, as well as cross-sector partners.
- A structure for the implementation and evaluation of Pennsylvania’s statewide suicide prevention plan.