Task force gets grant for suicide prevention

The first meeting of a statewide task force aimed at reducing the number of suicide deaths in the state came with funding to help realize those efforts, according to a press release from Gov. Wolf’s office.

Last Thursday, Members of Wolf’s health agencies, including the departments of Human Services (DHS) and Health (DOH), held the first meeting of Pennsylvania’s Suicide Prevention Task Force and announced receipt of a $3.68 million federal grant for youth suicide prevention.

“Working together to prevent suicide is of paramount importance to all Pennsylvanians,” Wolf said. “By convening the Suicide Prevention Task Force and continuing on a regular basis, we are gathering the right people and organizations to listen, collect information and take action toward making a real difference in reducing incidents of suicide.”

Kari Swanson is the founder of CORE (Choosing Openness Regarding Experiences), a non-profit organization with the mission to provide mental health awareness and suicide prevention education to Warren County. She said she is excited to hear of the statewide initiative and the grant funding.

“This is really needed in Pennsylvania,” Swanson said. “Other states around us are already on board. There’s an alliance in chautauqua County that does great things. I’ve been looking into forming a similar coalition here.”

Swanson sees the statewide initiative as a crucial step in raising awareness. “The less a state does the more it validates that suicide is not a problem,” she said. “But it is a big problem.”

The task force meeting brought together representatives from more than ten state agencies to discuss the state of suicide prevention efforts around the commonwealth, the data needs to better inform prevention efforts, and opportunities for public engagement as the task force works to develop a comprehensive suicide prevention plan that represents Pennsylvania’s diverse communities and the common and unique challenges faced.

The first task force meeting focused on establishing a series of listening sessions around the state to hear from individuals and families affected by suicide; reviewing current prevention efforts; and identifying opportunities for National Suicide Prevention Month in September.

“As a pediatrician and adolescent medicine specialist, I have seen the effect that mental health issues and thoughts of suicide can have on a young person’s health,” Department of Health Secretary Rachel Levine said. “It is essential that we engage with the public to increase prevention and treatment efforts across Pennsylvania to help address the public health issue of suicide. Together, we have the opportunity to make a difference and help save lives that are cut short far too early.”

During the meeting Department of Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller announced a federal grant totaling $3.68 million over five years that will support efforts to prevent suicide among Pennsylvania’s youth. The grant, “The PA Resource for Continuity of Care in Youth-Serving Systems and Transitions,” was awarded by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to support youth suicide prevention efforts in K-12 schools, colleges, and health care settings around Pennsylvania.

The 2017 Pennsylvania Youth Survey revealed that 16.5 percent of Pennsylvania middle and high school students had seriously considered suicide, and 9.7 percent attempted suicide one or more times within the past 12 months. The grant aims to empower communities throughout the commonwealth to implement a multi-component approach to identify, assess, and treat youth at risk of suicide.

The funding will support increasing capacity and growing the work of existing suicide prevention efforts lead by DHS’ Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, including expanding the Suicide Prevention Online Learning Center, working with staff in schools, colleges, and primary care settings to identify risk of suicide, and engaging behavioral health providers trained in suicide-risk management and families to help screen and assess risk of suicide and ensure youth needing support are properly connected to treatment resources.

Swanson said she hopes to see an increase in resources in the Warren County School District. “Teachers really struggle with this,” she said. “I hope to see them provided with more inservice education to help them learn how to address the needs of students.”

“With this federal grant and the efforts of the Task Force, we are committed to supporting and expanding prevention and screening efforts and bridging gaps in services to ensure that no child, no young adult, no Pennsylvanian feels disconnected from the care and support they need and deserve,” Wolf said.

For more information on Pennsylvania’s Suicide Prevention Task Force and upcoming public meetings or listening sessions, visit www.dhs.pa.gov.