New Plan for Preventing Suicides in Tompkins County

The Tompkins County Suicide Prevention Coalition on February 24 unanimously adopted a three-year strategic plan guided by a vision “for a community where no lives are lost to suicide” and using data, science, and collaborations to implement effective strategies.

T-shirts for the Greater Ithaca “Out of the Darkness” Walk, September 18, 2021

The plan noted that suicide continues to be the second leading cause of death among Americans aged 10-34, and in Tompkins County approximately half of the population is under 30.

“We believe that the persistent rise in the U.S. suicide rate over the past two decades demands a public health response from communities across the nation,” the plan stated. It said that since 2016, Tompkins County has averaged 12 suicide deaths per year. Another 1,600 parents, children, siblings, friends, and spouses may have been negatively impacted by resulting psychological, spiritual, and/or financial loss, it added.

The plan seeks to improve the quality and enhance the use of data sources and systems for suicide prevention in Tompkins County. It proposes the development of a data collection infrastructure to regularly collect timely, high quality, and interpretable data on those at risk of suicide. It calls for a county dashboard that integrates data from multiple sources for the purposes of surveillance, monitoring program/policy impact, and informing the coalition’s planning and activities.

The plan’s second goal is to advance quality improvement for suicide care in all Tompkins County healthcare and behavioral health settings. It seeks to promote and facilitate the implementation of the Zero Suicide Model in the county’s major healthcare and behavioral health settings as well as in primary care practices and clinical therapy practices. The plan calls for the formation of a Zero Suicide Work Group comprised of health and mental health providers, and funding for a coordinator to manage and assist education, training, and other collaborative activities.

Another goal is to reduce suicide attempts in the youth population, including students attending local colleges, through suicide awareness activities and “gatekeeper” training programs.

The plan seeks to reduce access to lethal means for suicide within high-risk demographic populations as determined by national, state, and local data. It calls for suicide prevention awareness programming related to suicide death by firearms and suicide death by drug overdose.

Finally, the plan seeks to advocate for policies and practices designed to prevent suicides in the community and to request support and funding from government agencies and nonprofit organizations. The plan said the coalition would support legislation in the New York State Legislature for full funding for the enhancement of crisis response services aligned with the introduction of the 988 suicide prevention lifeline number in 2022.

The plan said that the coalition is committed to measuring the results of its strategic plan and making them public. The coalition drafted its strategic plan with the support of the Suicide Prevention Center of New York.

The Suicide Prevention Coalition was founded in 2017 by 40 health agencies, community organizations, and individual members who share a determination to prevent suicide deaths in Tompkins County. “The coalition draws inspiration and purpose from The Watershed Declaration, a call to action by Tompkins County mental health leaders to renew our community’s commitment to suicide prevention,” the plan said.