This post is written by Communications and Community Outreach Manager Dion McGill, who is also a former public school educator and veteran.
This past Monday, with the backdrop of a Lurie Children’s Ambulance, Congresswoman Lauren Underwood joined Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospitals President & CEO Dr. Tom Shanley to announce the Child Suicide Prevention and Lethal Means Safety Act. This new piece of legislation is intended to decrease child suicide and increase mental health supports not only in Lurie Children’s, but in health facilities across the state.
Many of Lurie Children’s subject matter experts worked closely with Congresswoman Underwood’s staff on shaping this bill, including SCY, Emergency Medicine, Child Psychology, and the TRICAM team, who particularly focuses on the area of adolescent suicide prevention.
Suicide is currently the second leading cause of death for young people ages 10-24, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only threatened to accelerate these tragic trends. This new legislation will provide health care professionals with the training and resources needed to identify and support young people at risk for suicide.
Alongside Congresswoman Underwood and Dr. Tom Shanley were:
- Dr. Jennifer Hoffman, Attending Physician, Emergency Medicine at Lurie Children’s Hospital
- Scott Block, Executive Director, McHenry County Mental Health Board
- Grace Hammond, Youth Ambassador, NAMI McHenry County
Following comments by all participants, Congresswoman Underwood took questions from the audience, which ranged in topics from why it has taken so long for a piece of legislation like this to be created, to the withdrawal from Afghanistan. Congresswoman Underwood made mention that with so much talk of Afghanistan, veterans may find themselves needing someone to talk to or other mental health supports, and shared information for the Veterans Crisis Line:
Call: 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1
Chat: Connect Online here
To provide some background on this bill:
Data from the Centers for Disease control and Prevention (CDC) show that suicide rates among young Americans increased 56 percent between 2007 and 2017. Source. By 2017, suicide was the second leading cause of death for young people aged 10-14, 15-19, and 20-24. Source. The COVID-19 pandemic threatens to accelerate these alarming and tragic trends: a June 2021 CDC report found that emergency departments for suicide attempts among adolescents aged 12-17 years increased significantly during the pandemic, including a spike of more than 50 percent among adolescent girls. Source
One critical opportunity to identify young people who might be at risk for self-harm or suicide is in health care settings. However, many health care professionals do not receive training on identifying and responding to warning signs for suicide among patients. Source. Health care professionals must be prepared to support young people who display warning signs for suicide by ensuring at-risk patients can be connected with crisis resources and by using evidence-based suicide prevention practices like lethal means safety.
Lethal means safety is an intentional, voluntary practice to reduce the risk of suicide by limiting access to objects that can be used to inflict self-directed violence, like firearms, medication, and sharp instruments. Source. The data on lethal means safety are clear: individuals who reduce their access to lethal means during times of heightened risk are reducing their risk of dying by suicide. Source.
The Child Suicide Prevention and Lethal Means Safety Act would:
- Establish a grant program to provide funding for programs that offer youth suicide prevention and lethal means safety education and training to health care providers, addressing topics such as:
- Validated, age-appropriate screening and risk assessment tools to identify young people who may be at high risk of suicide or self-harm;
- Best practices in communicating with high-risk young people and their families about lethal means safety and suicide prevention;
- Suicide prevention, intervention, and postvention strategies, including safety planning;
- Racial and ethnic disparities in suicide rates among young people;
- State and federal firearm laws that apply to young people and their family members; and
- Referrals for high-risk young people to other providers, social services, or crisis resources.
- Establish a grant program to integrate lethal means safety and suicide prevention topics into curricula at health professional schools to ensure that future nurses, doctors, and mental and behavioral health care providers have received the education and training that will allow them to prevent lethal means injuries, deaths, and suicides among their patients.
- Create a centralized hub to provide important lethal means safety and suicide prevention information to at-risk individuals and their family members, health professional schools, and health care providers.
We look forward to the passage and implementation of this much needed legislation.