RD796 - Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services Annual Report on Activities Related to Suicide Prevention – December 1, 2021

Executive Summary:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States and the second leading cause of death for people 10 to 34 years of age. The impact of suicide and suicide attempts on the community has been shown to affect over half of the population and is estimated to cost billions per year in lost productivity. Additionally, being a survivor or someone with lived experience increases one’s risk of suicide. For these reasons, it remains imperative that efforts are made to ensure a comprehensive, evidence-based system is in place to respond to this need.

A report, released by the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) in July 2020, stated that in 2018 (the most recent data available) suicide was the tenth leading cause of death in Virginia. Furthermore, the report noted a 25 percent increase in suicide deaths from 2010 to 2018, with a slight decrease in 2019. While the causes of suicide are complex and determined by multiple factors, the goal of suicide prevention is to engage with these complexities on a variety of social-ecological levels, that is, individual, relational, communal, and societal. This work primarily occurs through the identification of factors that help to reduce the risk of suicide to individuals, (i.e., protective factors), and the factors that increase risk of suicide to individuals (i.e., risk factors). While the research, development, and implementation of these efforts remains critical, it is important to recognize that these efforts will not be effective unless they are supported through robust campaigns designed to increase awareness, promote help-seeking strategies, and support healing across communities.

In recent years, research has continued to build on the evidence-base for factors associated with increased risk of an individual dying by suicide. Some of the risks include alcohol use, feelings of hopelessness, isolation, barriers to mental health access, and loss. While rates of suicide continue to increase, the continued impact of COVID-19 and the necessary response to reduce deaths as a result of this pandemic must acknowledge the potential catalyzing effect on risk factors in the Virginia community. Furthermore, due to concerns surrounding community spread of the COVID-19 virus, many in-person trainings to build capacity for gatekeepers within communities, continue to be limited; stressing the importance of continued efforts to improve internet connectivity throughout the state. While the true impact of COVID-19 will take years to understand, it is imperative that Virginia recognize the serious and continued need for mental health resources. A comprehensive evidence-based public health approach to prevent suicide risk before it occurs (prevention), identify and support persons at risk (intervention), prevent reattempts, and help friends, family, and community members in the aftermath of a suicide (postvention) is needed. This report provides an overview of DBHDS’ activities related to suicide prevention across the lifespan.

Moving forward, the goal is to continue to address suicide prevention across the lifespan on a statewide level and in congruence with our state plan, “Suicide Prevention across the Lifespan: A Plan for the Commonwealth of Virginia." A combination of interventions at several levels will be required in order to implement an effective, comprehensive program. DBHDS will continue to strengthen capacity across multiple agencies and organizations to impact the ability to reduce the risk of suicide across the lifespan.