Statewide Suicide Prevention Task Force Created to Strengthen Supports for People in Crisis

Governor Tom Wolf announced a first-of-its-kind, statewide Suicide Prevention Task Force to develop the state’s suicide prevention plan, a long-term strategy to reduce suicide in Pennsylvania and let Pennsylvanians in crisis know their lives are valuable and help is available. The announcement was made by various state agencies that will be represented on the task force, Rep. Mike Schlossberg, Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, and Prevent Suicide PA.

“We have an obligation to provide resources and promote safe, supportive environments so people we serve know that there are places to turn if they are in crisis,” said Gov. Wolf. “Silence can perpetuate crisis and make people feel like they are struggling alone with no outlet or options for support, but things can and will get better, and help is always available.”

The Suicide Prevention Task Force will merge siloed efforts into one, statewide suicide prevention plan informed by the diverse perspectives and experiences of various state agencies, including in the departments of Aging, Human Services, Drug and Alcohol Programs, Health, Military and Veterans Affairs, Education, Corrections, and Transportation, the Pennsylvania State Police, and the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency.

The task force will hold its first monthly meeting in the next few weeks with members appointed by agency cabinet secretaries. The task force will work with the General Assembly, partners in suicide prevention, and other stakeholders to develop a new suicide prevention plan that takes recent data from the CDC, recent coverage around high-profile suicides, and recommendations related to mental health set by Pennsylvania’s School Safety Task Force. Long-term policy solutions and strategies will be developed to increase awareness of resources for people in crisis or considering suicide, reduce the stigma associated with suicide and mental illnesses, and reduce the rate of suicide in Pennsylvania.

According to a 2018 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the country and is one of only three that are on the rise. In Pennsylvania, suicide rates have increased by 34 percent since 1999. The CDC reports that problems with relationships, substance use, physical health conditions, a job or financial situation, and the legal system or another crisis most often contribute to suicide, and more than 50 percent of people who die by suicide do not have a known mental health condition.

The Department of Human Services’ (DHS) Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (OMHSAS) receives funding through the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) to support suicide prevention efforts around the commonwealth. Suicide prevention plans developed in support of these efforts have historically been targeted specifically toward young adults, school-aged children and older adults.

“If we are going to reverse the growing prevalence of suicide as a leading cause of death, we must expand our perspective and strengthen our approach,” said DHS Secretary Teresa Miller. “Suicidal ideation and crisis can affect people at any time and in any circumstance. We can all play a role in recognizing and supporting people in crisis, and we intend to do that.”

“Unfortunately, individuals in crisis and with mental health disorders are often shadowed with stigma much like individuals suffering from substance use disorders,” said DDAP Secretary Jen Smith. “As public servants, we have an obligation to reduce that stigma and create a policy to help our loved ones and neighbors. This task force will bring together individuals from different facets of the state government to do just that.”

“Suicide is a difficult issue and we are extremely interested in supporting this task force so we may adopt and implement the innovations and tools it will provide for the betterment of both our service members and our veterans,” said Brig. Gen Mark Schindler, deputy adjutant general-Army with the PA Army National Guard.

“All lives have value and worth, but there are times when it can be hard for people to see through their pain,” said Gov. Wolf. “My administration will do everything we can to ensure that the people we serve and represent know that they are never alone and that systems and supports are equipped to provide the help that can save lives.”

If you or someone you love is in crisis or you are considering harming yourself, free help is available 24/7 through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.