Each September during Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, I reflect on the progress Arizona has made in addressing a critical public health issue. On average, 1,400 Arizonans die by suicide each year, a number that has wide-reaching consequences for families and our larger communities.
These deaths are preventable. I’m heartened, however, by new momentum, energy, and funding that Arizona has to address this public health issue.
In August, the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, Arizona’s Medicaid agency, received an $800,000 Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration emergency suicide prevention grant to bring together behavioral health and domestic violence providers in Pima County.
With this funding, domestic violence providers will be able to screen for suicidal ideation, and behavioral health providers will be able to screen for indications of domestic violence.
This coordinated approach recognizes that there is often more than one social determinant of health at play – individuals who are survivors of domestic violence may also be fighting depression, substance use, and suicidal thoughts.
With the Arizona Department of Education, the AHCCCS suicide prevention team oversees the 5-year Project AWARE grant to bring suicide prevention and behavioral health resources to schools, particularly useful this school year as public and charter schools implement the Mitch Warnock Act. Effective this fall, that law requires all school staff who work with students between 6th and 12th grades to be trained in an evidence-based suicide prevention training. The AHCCCS team has published a list of approved training courses on their website, and works with schools to implement and track the new training requirement.
As your children head back to school, whether online or in person, ask about partnerships with behavioral health providers. We have seen a remarkable increase in Medicaid-eligible students receiving services on campus (more than 15,000 students in the last school year, statewide) and hope to continue to see these partnerships grow. Serving students where they are has been proven to reduce barriers to accessing behavioral health care.
How is your student’s school implementing the new law? Do they have a behavioral health provider available to students? Do they have a suicide prevention or postvention policy listed on their website? School leadership should be able to answer these questions.
Suicide prevention cannot be accomplished by one team or one state agency. It is up to all of us to know the warning signs and what to do next. Check on your neighbor or family member who lives alone. Get rid of unnecessary prescriptions or over-the-counter medications. Store firearms under lock so they cannot be used without your permission. Get trained in suicide prevention. And if you are worried about someone who is suicidal, never leave them alone. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 and you will be transferred to a local behavioral health provider. Store this number in your phone. You’ll never know when you may be in a position to save a life.
Together, we can reduce – even end – suicide in Arizona!
Kelli Donley Williams is the state suicide prevention specialist at Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System.