Suicide Prevention Goals for Tompkins

The Sophie Fund on August 11 proposed five goals for consideration by the Tompkins County Suicide Prevention Coalition: implementation of the Zero Suicide Model for healthcare; lethal means reduction initiatives; and education and evidence-based clinical services for the youth/college-aged population, military veterans, and middle-aged men.

The goals are based on national data, available local data, anecdotal knowledge of Tompkins suicide trends, and goals put forth by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Project 2025, “1,700 Too Many: New York State’s Suicide Prevention Plan 2016-2017,” the U.S. “2012 National Strategy for Suicide Prevention,” and the 2021 “Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Implement the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention.” Updated and more detailed local data, when available, may inform a need for additional goals.

Baseline Data (per the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention):

  • Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in U.S.
  • The suicide rate between 2000 and 2016 increased from 10.4 to 13.5 per 100,000 (CDC).
  • 47,511 Americans died by suicide in 2019.
  • 1.38 million Americans attempted suicide in 2019.
  • 12 million Americans have serious thoughts of suicide.
  • Suicide rate is highest among white middle-aged men.
  • Firearms accounted for 50.39 percent of all suicide deaths in 2019.
  • Tompkins County data indicates 54 suicide deaths from 2017 to 2021; 87 percent of those who died by suicide were white and 20 percent were in the 20-29 age bracket (SPCNY).


Implementing the Zero Suicide Model Across All Healthcare Levels

“Zero Suicide models what it takes to make a system-wide, organizational commitment to safer suicide care. Zero Suicide is based on the realization that people experiencing suicidal thoughts and urges often fall through the cracks in a sometimes fragmented and distracted health care system. Studies have shown the vast majority of people who died by suicide saw a health care provider in the year prior to their deaths. There is an opportunity for health care systems to make a real difference by transforming how patients are screened and the care they receive.” — EDC

The Zero Suicide Model is a central strategy/goal of the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention, New York State’s Suicide Prevention Plan, and the Joint Commission’s National Patient Safety Goal for Suicide Prevention (NPSG) 15.01.01; it has also been adopted by the Tompkins County Suicide Prevention Coalition and the Tompkins County Legislature.

Suicide Prevention through Lethal Means Reduction Initiatives

Firearms accounted for 50.39 percent of all suicide deaths in 2019. Poisoning (e.g. via drugs) accounted for 12.9 percent of all suicide deaths in 2018.

“Many suicide attempts take place during a short-term crisis, so it is important to consider a person’s access to lethal means during these periods of increased risk. Access to lethal means is a risk factor for suicide. Reducing access to lethal means saves lives.” —SPRC

Suicide Prevention for the Youth/College-Aged Population through Education Initiatives, Evidence-Based Clinical Services, and School-Community Collaboration

Per 2010 census data, nearly 50 percent of Tompkins County residents are between the ages of 10-34. The median age is 31. In addition, there are 34,066 students enrolled in local colleges the vast majority of which fall into the 18-30 age bracket (Cornell 23,620; Ithaca College 5,400; Tompkins Cortland Community College 5,046).

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people aged 10-34 in the U.S. and in New York State; suicide surpassed homicide and malignant neoplasms as the second leading cause of death in the 10-24 age population in 2011.

48.2 percent of college students surveyed reported that academics have been “traumatic or very difficult to handle,” and 41.4 percent “felt so depressed that it was difficult to function,” according to the 2018 National College Health Assessment; 11.3 percent seriously considered suicide in the last 12 months, and 1.9 percent had attempted suicide.

35.8 percent of surveyed college students seeking counseling in the 2017-18 academic year had “seriously considered attempting suicide” (up from 24 percent in the 2010-11 academic year), according to the Center for Collegiate Mental Health 2018 Annual Report; 10.3 percent of the students seeking counseling had actually made a suicide attempt.

“During the past decade, concerns about college student mental health have escalated nationwide. Surveys conducted at colleges and universities around the country show that students are experiencing greater distress, and demand for mental health services is increasing. Conservative estimates indicate that 20-35 percent of college students may face mental health challenges of varying severity during their years in college. The late teens and early twenties remain the critical age of onset for many mental health disorders. At the same time, more students are coming to Cornell with pre-existing mental health diagnoses, and there has been an increase in student distress related to local and national events, particularly for students of color. As stigma decreases, more students are seeking mental health care. In addition, generational research suggests that that the current college age population is more stressed and isolated, less likely to get enough sleep, and less independent—all factors that can impact their mental health.” 2020 Mental Health Review (Cornell University)

Suicide Prevention for Military Veterans through Outreach and Education Initiatives and Evidence-Based Clinical Services

Census data from 2010 indicates there are 3,952 veterans in Tompkins County, representing 4 percent of the population.

An estimated 30,177 veterans nationwide have died by suicide since the 9/11 attacks in 2001 led to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Another estimated 7,057 died by suicide while deployed. Four times as many troops and vets have died by suicide as in combat, powerfully illustrating the seriousness of the problem.

Moreover, a 2021 report now says that “increasing rates of suicide for both veterans and active duty personnel are outpacing those of the general population ― an alarming shift, as suicide rates among service members have historically been lower than suicide rates among the general population.”

Suicide Prevention for Middle-Aged Men through Education Initiatives and Evidence-Based Clinical ServicesThe suicide rate is highest among white middle-aged men. White males accounted for nearly 70 percent of all suicide deaths in 2019. Men died by suicide 3.63 times as often as women in 2019.