Mental Health Screening and Suicide Prevention
Research led by David Shaffer, MD, Irving Philips Professor of Child Psychiatry and Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics at Columbia University Medical Center, has established that most adolescent suicides occur in the context of a psychiatric illness. His work showed that approximately 90 percent of adolescent suicide victims are suffering from a mental illness. Sixty-three percent exhibit symptoms identifiable by screening for at least a year before their death, creating an opportunity for prevention through screening and early identification.
This research is the foundation of the work of the TeenScreen National Center. Our goal is to prevent adolescent suicide; reduce disability due to mental illness; and improve overall health outcomes by establishing mental health checkups as a routine standard of care. The information below relates directly to programs under the heading of suicide prevention, while our policy recommendations relating to Medicaid, Quality Improvement, Health Care Reform, and other topics look more broadly at preventing suicide and improving overall health outcomes through early identification and intervention for adolescent mental illness.
The Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act
The TeenScreen National Center informed the design of the nation’s first national suicide prevention legislation, the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act. This Act authorized the creation of a grant program to support state and tribal suicide prevention programs, a matching-grant program targeted toward campus awareness and intervention, and a suicide prevention resource center. To date, at least 34 states, 11 tribal organizations and 78 institutions of higher learning have received grant funding through this program.
For more information, see our fact sheet.
National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention
The National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention is public-private partnership that was formed in 2010 to accelerate the adoption of action steps to prevent suicide. The Action Alliance leadership includes representatives from numerous government agencies, as well as broad private sector representation. The Action Alliance is co-chaired by the Honorable Gordon Smith, former U.S. Senator and President and CEO of the National Association of Broadcasters (private sector co-chair) and the Honorable John McHugh, Secretary of the Army (public sector co-chair).
In 2011, the Action Alliance released a report Suicide Care in Systems Framework. Among the recommendations in the report is the following: “four elements of a care continuum must be included in any community’s suicide prevention design: (1) screening and assessment for suicide risk, (2) intervention (safety planning, means restriction), (3) treatment responses (including direct treatment or referral depending on the setting and degree of risk), and (4) follow-up processes.”
State Suicide Prevention Plans
At the state level, 44 states have suicide prevention plans in place that mention screening as a key method of early identification and prevention. Nine of these states specifically endorse the use of local TeenScreen programs including: New York, Florida, Iowa, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oregon, Vermont, Delaware and Montana.