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A Look at 5 States’ Recent Suicide-Prevention Initiatives

Suicide remains a major public health problem. In the United States, it is one of the leading causes of death. More than 49,000 people died by suicide in 2022, the most recent year for which data is available. Disturbingly, this number has been rising steadily since the early ‘90s.

 

Hope arrived for some in the summer of 2022 with the introduction of the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. Reachable via a three-digit dialing code, 988 is staffed 24 hours per a day, seven days per week by trained counselors. In its first full years of operations, the lifeline received 5 million contacts via its phone, text, and chat options.

 

While 988 shows promise, the level of implementation and investment varies from state to state. This means factors ranging from a lack of awareness to a dearth of local staff has affected its ability to help people who are in crisis. In addition, because suicide is such a complex problem, experts say a multipronged approach to supporting people’s mental health is needed.

 

Recognizing this, some communities have taken steps to tackle the problem of suicide. From shoring up funding for 988 to installing physical suicide-prevention barriers, here’s a look at what states and localities have been doing recently to prevent suicide.

 

1. California

 

A major barrier in suicide-prevention efforts is convincing people who need help to reach out. Young people, especially, may feel as if they don’t deserve support and need to be alone with their problems.

 

The California Department of Health is attempting to tackle this misconception head on with the Never A Bother campaign. Launched in the spring of 2024, the campaign is focused on convincing young people that asking for help doesn’t make them a “bother.”

 

The California Department of Health collaborated with 400 California youth to develop Never A Bother, drawing on their input to craft messaging that resonates with young people. The stakes are high in the Golden State, where in recent years suicide has been the second-leading cause of death among people aged 10-25.

 

2. New York City

 

The Vessel became a popular tourist attraction following its opening in Manhattan in 2019. Located in the Hudson Yards neighborhood, the beehive-like landmark consists of 154 interconnected flights of stairs that together form a towering spiral staircase. From the top, visitors can enjoy striking panoramic views of Manhattan and the surrounding region.

 

Unfortunately, the Vessel also became a destination for people looking to end their lives. After a cluster of suicides, the landmark closed in 2021. It was later reopened with additional security and suicide-prevention signs, but after another person took their life there, the structure closed indefinitely.

 

In April, it was reported the Vessel will reopen, this time with stronger suicide-prevention measures. As reported by Gothamist, cut-proof, weather-resistant steel-mesh barriers will encase much of the upper levels of the structure; meanwhile, the top floor will remain closed. According to a Hudson Yards spokesperson, it will be reopened in 2024, though there’s yet to be an official announcement.

 

3. Oregon

 

Oregon residents contacted 988 nearly 600,00 times in the lifeline’s first year alone. Funding for the program enabled Lines for Life, the nonprofit that runs 988 in the state, to answer calls quickly than ever before, despite having to handle a higher volume compared to previous crisis lines.

 

In 2023, the Oregon legislature passed a bill that would shore up funding for the program. As of January 1, 2024, most Oregon residents will have 40-cent tax added to their phone bills. Additionally, individuals purchasing a prepaid plan will incur a 40-cent fee.

 

Any tax revenue that remains following the funding of 988 will cover the cost of operating mobile response teams in the state. According to Lines for Life’s CEO, the stable source of revenue will enable 988 to continue to offer timely support to Oregonians who need it.

 

4. Ohio

 

Suicide has reached a “crisis level” in Ohio, according to the executive director of the Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation. Responding to the need for a statewide effort to address the issue, Ohio governor Mike DeWine announced in January the 2024-2026 Suicide Prevention Plan.

 

The plan focuses on “promot[ing] life-saving strategies statewide.” Among these are increasing awareness rega him rding the truth about suicide and expanding data-gathering efforts.

 

The plan, which comes in the wake of a controversial bill that bans gender-affirming care in Ohio, also includes measure to prevent suicide in the LGBTQ community. Other groups Ohio is prepared to support include veterans, people from rural communities, and people with disabilities.

 

5. Idaho

 

Idaho is one of over 50 states and territories participating in the National Governor's Challenge to Prevent Suicide Among Service Members, Veterans, and their Families (SMVF). Administered by the Veterans Administration and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the SMVF involves the two agencies working with communities to formulate and implement best practices for preventing suicide among military-affiliated residents.

 

In April, Idaho announced it had begun the implementation phase of the program. After spending 15 months conducting an analysis of existing suicide-prevention measures in the state, the Idaho Division of Veterans Services developed a three-pronged strategy centered on identifying at-risk individuals, connecting them with available resource, and safely handling crisis situations. A celebration was held in Boise to commemorate the milestone, and stakeholders hope the progress will result in the lives of military-affiliated residents being saved.

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