Suicide is among the top causes of death in the United States today, and for some groups, the crisis is particularly acute.
The terrible toll that suicide takes on our society is immense. To put it in perspective, in 2020 alone, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says an estimated 12.2 million people in the U.S. seriously considered suicide, 3.2 million made a plan and 1.2 million made an attempt on their own lives. That same year, nearly 46,000 people died by suicide – roughly one person every 11 minutes.
Data also shows that suicide was the second-leading cause of death among individuals aged 10 to 34 in 2020. As a father of three children – all of whom fall in this age group – this statistic hits home, and highlights a crisis we must help our young people overcome.
The problem is staggering, but there is hope.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, research from CVS Health and Morning Consult revealed that Americans felt society has become more comfortable engaging in mental health discussions. However, the research also revealed the following, which speaks to the crisis:
- Nearly 75% of survey respondents aged 18 to 34 experienced mental health concerns for themselves, family or friends, reflecting a 12 percentage-point increase from two years ago.
- Nearly 65% of respondents who identified as LGBTQ+ expressed concerns about their own mental health – a share 20 points higher compared with other respondents.
Since 2017, Aetna, a CVS Health Company, has supported the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s goal to reduce the annual suicide rate 20% by the year 2025 under the Project 2025 initiative. Inspired by the AFSP, CVS Health and Aetna established a variety of evidence-based strategies aimed at achieving our own goal of reducing suicide attempts among Aetna members by 20% by 2025.
And we are making progress: Among Aetna members overall, we saw a 15.7% reduction in suicide attempts through March 2022 compared with a 2019 baseline. We also saw a decrease of 17.5% in suicide attempts in adults 18 and older in 2021 and a 34.1% decrease through March 2022 when compared with 2019. Sadly, though, we aren’t seeing this progress in youths aged 13 to 17. In fact, the numbers went up.
To help make further progress – and to turn the tide among adolescents – we are developing a comprehensive approach and innovative programs to advance our mental health and suicide care. This effort includes initiatives and other means geared toward preventing self-harm, and investing in programs to support patients after a suicide attempt to reduce the likelihood of future attempts.
- Suicide prevention screenings for all members seen by clinical staff – even if they are not presenting as “at risk.”
- Self-harm risk modeling to proactively support families with children at the highest risk of a suicide attempt.
- A partnership with Vita Health and Oui Therapeutics providing access to support teams and clinical outpatient services featuring evidence-based therapies and interventions.
- Our Caring Contacts program that reaches out to vulnerable Aetna members after a suicide attempt. Postcards are sent to patients reminding them they are valued and offering dedicated 24/7 assistance from mental health professionals.
We’re also investing in continuing education programs for mental health and primary care providers and funding suicide support groups as we work to save some of the most vulnerable members of our communities.
As a society, we must start viewing mental health with equal importance to physical health if we are going to significantly reduce suicide rates. In July, the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline went live nationwide. Much like dialing 911, people across the country can now get emergency mental health help. It was a major step in treating mental health crises the same as we treat other emergency situations. But it’s only one piece of a much bigger puzzle.
We need to continue to talk about mental health and suicide – and not just during Mental Health Awareness Month in May and Suicide Prevention Awareness Month in September. I again challenge the health care industry to adopt truly comprehensive and holistic care options that encompass mental health, and call on industry leaders to go the extra mile to prevent initial suicide attempts and to support those who survive attempts to prevent relapse.
Together, we can make a difference for our members and patients – and save lives.