Group aims to cut suicides by 20 percent
The announcement co-incides with national Suicide Prevention Week, which begins Monday, Sept. 5. The initiatives are part of Project 2025, which was launched in October 2015.
Foundation CEO Robert Gebbia said the 20-percent target was set by the board in 2014 as a bold but attainable goal that would help combat rising suicide rates.
According to a data brief published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the national suicide rate increased 24 percent between 1999 and 2014.
All ages and genders saw an increase, although the rise was greatest for females between the ages of 10 and 14 and males between the ages of 45 and 64.
“The trend has been up. We want to reverse that and start to bring it down,” Gebbia said. “We felt that 20 percent was really the right target for us, and it’s bold, make no mistake.”
The first step in meeting the goal is increased research. As the largest suicide-prevention organization in the country, the foundation awarded more than $4.35 million in research grants during its most recent grant cycle.
Most of those funds came from public donations and the foundation's signature Out of the Darkness fundraising walks. About 250,000 people are expected to walk in 385 walks around the country this year, according to the AFSP website.
Project 2025 took its research and partnered with Calibre, a tech consulting company, to create a predictability model to identify the most effective suicide-prevention efforts. Calibre has created data-analytics models for the Department of Defense, federal and civil agencies, as well as commercial clients.
“For us, the variables were, if we could take an evidence-based strategy and intervention, we know from experience it has a certain level of effectiveness,” Gebbia said. “If you could apply it, and you do it over a certain amount of time, what might you expect as an outcome in terms of lives saved?”
Calibre identified four critical areas of focus: hospital emergency departments, large health-care systems, firearms and the criminal justice system.
AFSP has already forged a partnership with the National Shooting Sports Foundation to enhance its suicide-prevention education. Bill Brassard, senior director of communications for NSSF, said the timing was ideal: Just as AFSP was looking for a partner that could reach gun owners, NSSF was hearing from retailers and shooting-range members that they wanted more information on the topic.
“NSSF has been cautious about entering this area because, obviously, we’re not experts in suicidology,” Brassard said. “And also because too often the conversation surrounding suicide and guns involves wanting to take away people’s firearms.”
AFSP made it clear from the beginning that it had no intention of getting involved in gun politics, which Brassard said made it possible for the two organizations to work together on ways to save lives.
The pilot program of this partnership will launch in four states: Alabama, Kentucky, Missouri and New Mexico. It will involve cooperation between local AFSP chapters, firearms retailers and shooting ranges.
“We are confident that firearms retailers and ranges will be receptive to the effort,” Brassard said. “The firearms community has always made encouraging and practicing gun safety and responsible firearms storage a high priority and this is an extension of working to keep guns out of the wrong hands.”
According to the CDC, 55.4 percent of males who died by suicide used firearms, making them the most common suicide method for men in 2014.
“We hope, over time, we can help reduce the number of suicides by firearm,” Brassard said.
The AFSP/Calibre model projects that if 50 percent of individuals who purchase firearms are also exposed to suicide-prevention education and the education has a 20-percent effectiveness rate, they can expect to save 9,500 lives through 2025.
Gebbia said these are conservative numbers based on the effectiveness of intervention strategies in research studies.
AFSP also plans to partner with the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention and the Suicide Prevention Resource center to expand its Zero Suicide Initiative -- a set of strategies and tools aimed at suicide prevention in health and behavioral health-care systems, to save an estimated 9,200 lives. It also hopes to partner with hospital emergency departments to save an additional 1,100 lives.
The fourth focus area, the criminal justice system, is still in the planning stages. “We think it's an area of potential,” Gebbia said. “We're still trying to look at some of the best practices and models that might work.”