National Strategy for Suicide Prevention: Following Our Compass

October 07, 2022
News Type:  Director's Corner
Author:  Shelby Rowe, MBA, SPRC Executive Director

In a box at home, I have a well-worn, dog-eared paperback that has survived several moves in the past decade—my print copy of the 2012 National Strategy for Suicide Prevention (National Strategy). At the time of its publication, I had just started a new job as suicide prevention project coordinator at Arkansas Children’s Injury Prevention Center and was serving as president of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Arkansas chapter. I immediately downloaded the document and created a PowerPoint presentation highlighting the 13 goals and 60 objectives laid out in its pages.

From that point forward, every project I planned and every training budget I submitted for approval referenced the National Strategy. It became my compass in the field of suicidology, my marching orders, and my beacon of hope. Any initiative that didn’t align with the National Strategy didn’t happen on my watch. In its pages, I found instructions—and inspiration—for developing truly effective, comprehensive, inclusive suicide prevention efforts at the organizational, community, state, tribal, and national level. 

Developed to guide the nation’s suicide prevention efforts, the first National Strategy was released in 2001, launching a coordinated movement to prevent suicide across the country. Ten years later, the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention (Action Alliance)—the nation’s public-private partnership for suicide prevention—formed an expert task force to revise and update that landmark document, resulting in the 2012 National Strategy that has guided our efforts ever since. 

When the Action Alliance convened that 2012 task force, they helped pave the way for our field’s innovation over the past decade. By bringing together public and private sector leaders, they helped ensure suicide prevention efforts are multi-pronged, multi-sectoral, and include all members of society. They helped ensure the revised document was based on an understanding that there is no single cause for suicide, there is no single strategy for prevention, and we all have a role to play in saving lives.

In the decade since the release of the 2012 National Strategy, the Action Alliance and its partners have led the field in advancing its goals and objectives. In collaboration with SPRC and other national groups, the Action Alliance has developed foundational guidance on preventing suicide in a variety of settings, including communities, health care systems, and workplaces. They have also led key initiatives in Zero Suicide, public messaging, tribal and faith communities, and lived experience. In addition, the Action Alliance’s crisis services recommendations are reflected in the recent nationwide rollout of the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.

Ten years on, our field has made huge strides—including the 2021 release of The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Implement the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention—yet there is more work to do. In a period when suicide rates have risen disproportionately in some communities and mental health has been pushed to the forefront by the pandemic, we can see both the progress we have made and the opportunities to do more. This is made clear in a newly released national public perception poll.

That poll comes from a multi-year collaboration between SPRC, the Action Alliance, and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to understand the public’s beliefs and attitudes about suicide and mental health. Carried out by The Harris Poll and building on surveys from previous years, the 2022 poll found large gains in the public valuing suicide prevention and mental health but persistent barriers to helping others and getting help. Some key findings were:

  • While 76% of U.S. adults believe mental and physical health are equally important, over half (51%) do not feel they are treated equally in health care systems.
  • Most U.S. adults (94%) believe suicide is preventable, but 83% would be interested in learning how they can play a role in helping someone who may be suicidal.
  • Most of those surveyed believe there is a need for greater access to mental health care, and education and training of providers and lay responders to help prevent suicide.

Overall, the poll indicates that progress has been made, but there is more to do. And to do more, we need to look to what has spurred our progress thus far—the National Strategy. It is the compass that has guided us this far, and the compass that will lead to future progress. We must continue to learn more about suicide and mental health, particularly through increased research; teach everyone how to help prevent suicide and promote mental health; and expand access to care and crisis services.

I invite you to learn more about the public perception poll data and join us in taking action to build on the progress we have made in bringing the goals and objectives of the National Strategy to life over the past decade.

Shelby Rowe, MBA

SPRC Executive Director

Center on Child Abuse and Neglect

University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center