In August, the Pennsylvania Suicide Prevention Task Force launched a statewide listening tour. After spending months gathering input from residents, the task force released a preliminary report Tuesday afternoon, detailing what can be done to prevent suicide.

The listening tour took Suicide Prevention Task Force members across the state to ten public sessions, where they heard from more than 800 people. The main message is clear: remove the mental health stigma, and remove barriers to care.

“You talk to people who have been considering, or who have considered suicide, and a lot of it comes down to the stigma, and we really need to get after that,” says Major General Anthony Carrelli, Adjutant General of the PA National Guard.

Members of the task force took gathered input from residents affected by suicide, and mental health professionals. They’re now working on a full plan to reduce suicide rates in Pennsylvania. The preliminary report to that plan, released Tuesday, identified several key themes to boost the state’s suicide prevention strategy.

“I believe these themes and recommendations give us a clear path forward for actionable ways to enhance and support suicide prevention efforts across the Commonwealth,” explains Teresa Miller, Secretary of the PA Dept. of Health.

The key themes identified in the preliminary report are listed below:

  • Stigma associated with mental health, suicide and suicide attempts can affect the likelihood of individuals seeking help or continuing treatment, and how policymakers make decisions that affect mental health systems.
  • Resources needed to elevate mental health as a public health issue, incentivize the integration of physical and behavioral health, and improve suicide prevention resources at the local level.
  • Barriers to treatment such as cost and insurance gaps.
  • Access to more detailed suicide and suicide-attempt data to help policymakers make effective, meaningful decisions.
  • Issues within the mental-health workforce, such as pay and barriers to entry, to improve quality of care.
  • With proper resources, Pennsylvania’s schools and educators are uniquely positioned to save lives with suicide prevention strategies and resources.
  • The Legislature could take direct action to prevent suicides through the passage of a Red Flag law (to provide a means to remove firearms from someone at risk for suicide) or safe storage requirements for firearms.

According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, in 2017, more than 47,000 people committed suicide. 2,023 of those people were Pennsylvania residents. 

Task force members believe reducing the stigma surrounding mental health is one of the main ways to reduce suicide rates. Rep. Michael Schlossberg (D- Lehigh) says he has personal experience with negative mental health. He wants Pennsylvania residents to know it’s okay to not be okay, and that help is out there.

“I hope that people that are listening right now, who feel what it’s like to be that hopeless that they don’t see a way out, as someone who’s been there, I hope those folks can recognize that there are so many people who want to help you. And that there’s more help that’s on the way,” Rep. Schlossberg says.

This preliminary report is just the beginning. The task force will release a statewide comprehensive four-year suicide prevention plan in the next few months. That will be made available for public comment.