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STATE: NC joins CDC efforts for suicide prevention, more surveillance in ER

RALEIGH — The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services announced it has received $870,000 per year over the next five years for suicide prevention. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s new Comprehensive Suicide Prevention Program is the first to take a comprehensive public health approach which addresses data-informed family, community and societal issues that contribute to suicide.

North Carolina, along with nine other states, received funding to improve the timeliness of state surveillance data on emergency department visits for nonfatal firearm injuries. The funding is part of a new cooperative agreement with the CDC’s Division of Violence Prevention for the Firearm Surveillance Through Emergency Rooms (FASTER) project and includes partners at UNC’s Carolina Center for Health Informatics and Injury Prevention Research Center. With these grants, NCDHHS will be better able to gather and analyze data for use in support of evidence-based interventions statewide to reduce suicide deaths and nonfatal firearm injuries.

The collection and dissemination of near real-time data from emergency department visits for nonfatal firearm injuries overall and by intent (suicidal, unintentional, assault-related and undetermined) at the state and local level will improve state and local practitioners’ ability to identify and respond to emerging public health problems.

Prior to the pandemic, suicide was a leading cause of death and continues to be a concern due to the COVID-19 pandemic and North Carolina has seen an increase in phone calls into disaster crisis lines. This project is timely and can help to meet the needs through interventions focused on suicide prevention and to prepare for potential increased needs as the pandemic continues.

“It has only been in the past two decades that the concept of suicide prevention has expanded to recognize that positive changes in systems, communities and society can reduce suicide and suicidal injuries, said Assistant Secretary for Public Health Mark T. Benton. “Multi-tiered, coordinated efforts among stakeholders in the areas of research, surveillance and program and policy development is a promising approach to save these lives and prevent suicide attempts.”

A comprehensive public health approach to suicide prevention supported by CDC’s funding includes:

• Strong leadership that brings together diverse partners

• Use of data to focus efforts to populations most in need and to understand the risk and protective factors impacting suicide

• Leverage existing suicide prevention programs

• Implement evidence-based strategies that complement one another and build on existing efforts in the state to fill gaps in suicide prevention

• Effective communication of progress and outcomes to our key partners

• Rigorous evaluation with built-in quality improvement and sustainability

Suicide is a growing public health crisis that took more than 48,000 lives in the United States in 2018, according to the CDC. In North Carolina, approximately 1,400 people died by suicide in 2018. North Carolina’s goal is to decrease suicide and self-inflicted injuries by 10 percent among our vulnerable populations, which have been identified as males, veterans and/or those living in rural communities, where the burden of suicide is disproportionately higher. The use of firearms is the leading method of suicide across these groups. Reducing suicide attempts and fatalities among these populations will substantially reduce the overall burden of suicide for North Carolinians. Our prioritized prevention strategies will focus on safe storage of lethal means (firearms) during periods of suicidal risk, increasing health care provider training and other interventions as identified.

In response to increasing pressures placed on individuals and families due to COVID-19, NCDHHS is partnering with the UNC Injury Prevention Research Center to build the capacity of community teams to enhance prevention of and response to suicide and adverse childhood experiences by leveraging systems thinking tools and remote collaboration platforms.

To find out more about what the CDC is doing to prevent suicide, visit CDC’s Suicide Prevention webpage.

Need Help? Know Someone Who Does? Contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or use the online Lifeline Crisis Chat. Both are free and confidential. You will be connected to a skilled, trained counselor in your area.