- Posted September 28, 2023
Biden Administration Gives Funding Boost to Help Curb Suicides
The Biden administration is allocating $232.2 million in grants to help stem suicides and improve behavioral health care for at-risk groups.
Suicide is happening at an “alarming” rate, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Last year alone, nearly 50,000 Americans died by suicide, up 2.6% from 2021, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. During this month, we are reminded that suicide is preventable, and no one should go through a suicide-related crisis alone,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said Wednesday, emphasizing that the Biden administration “is deeply committed to tackling the mental health challenges facing America, and particularly focused on addressing the alarming rates of suicide.”
About $200 million of the grant will be used to build local capacity for the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline and related crisis services. The national suicide hotline was revamped last year with a three-digit number to make it easier to recall in a crisis.
The new lifeline received nearly 5 million calls in its first year, almost 2 million more for similar timeframes on the previous hotline, according to HHS.
Still, about 82% of respondents to a National Alliance on Mental Illness poll released in July were unaware that they could call or text those three digits for mental health help.
With more than 200 centers with volunteers and paid employees answering calls for people in crisis, calls are routed to a center in a caller's geographic area. Many local call centers have said they need more licensed counselors to answer phones, texts and chats, according to CNN.
In all, $177 million is targeted to improvements in technology and security, as well as hiring and training crisis counselors.
Another $18.3 million will be used to improve response to 988 contacts from American Indian or Alaska Native populations, including what HHS described as "culturally competent" support.
An additional $5 million is targeted for follow-up with those who have called for help.
Other funds are earmarked to foster improved coordination between call center staffers and emergency services operators, with an aim to reducing the burden on police. Funding for suicide-prevention efforts aimed at college-age people, older adults and those who live in rural areas is also included. Those in rural areas often have more access to guns.
Suicide cuts across all demographic fault lines. It is the second-leading cause of death for teens in the United States, with 12.7% having serious thoughts of taking their own life.
About 4.8% of U.S. adults also had serious thoughts of suicide, according to a 2021 survey from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Older adults make up 12% of the population, but 18% of suicides.
"Our country is facing an unprecedented behavioral health crisis impacting people of all ages," said Deputy HHS Secretary Andrea Palm, in an HHS news release. "The Biden-Harris administration is committed to supporting those who are struggling, their families, and everyone impacted by suicide. We have invested in 988, community- and school-based care, expanding our health workforce, and other critical supports. We will continue as long as needed."
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, reach out for help. Dial or text 988 or visit 988lifeline.org for free, confidential support.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more facts about suicide.
SOURCES: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, news release, Sept. 27, 2023; CNN, Sept. 27, 2023