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A Glimpse Inside the World's Largest Suicide Prevention Database

Jul 23, 2018 2 Min. Read

How ICF's research and data evaluation fits into national suicide prevention efforts. 

What do we really know about suicide?

With suicide rates rising annually in nearly every state, the conversation on mental health has reached unlikely advocates. Lawmakers, cultural commentators, behavioral scientists, and ordinary families have attempted to break the cultural muzzle on the country’s most silent killer.

Experts have developed a shared language to help decode the sheer complexity of mental health in the U.S.: data analysis.

Sophia Zanakos is an ICF researcher driving the Suicide Prevention Data Center. The web-based collection and management system is the largest of its kind, containing tens of thousands of surveys from behavioral health providers, students, college campus staff, and more as part of ICF’s evaluation of the Garrett Lee Smith youth suicide prevention program.

Since 2005, the ICF team has examined the activities of SAMHSA grantees – which then links to other data on suicide deaths– to conclude on the effectiveness of national prevention efforts by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

As recent trends in the media offer possible interventions that may have prevented tragedy, SAMHSA has enlisted the power of data to fill in the information gaps. ICF’s independent evaluations of SAMHSA’s suicide prevention efforts have shown that it does make an impact. A recent analysis revealed that counties conducting the trainings -- when compared to matched counties that weren’t -- showed significantly fewer youth suicides.

A review of clinical scenarios revealed that 45 percent of those who died by suicide had seen their primary care physician in the last month. The current American health care model does not include sufficient referral processes, awareness training, or -- perhaps the largest preventative factor in suicide -- following up with at-risk patients.

Responding to the systematic shortcomings, ICF’s Megan Brooks currently evaluates the Zero Suicide Program. The SAMHSA-funded initiative embeds suicide prevention efforts with health care and public outreach. Brooks and her team developed a multimethod national evaluation, and currently pilots data collection approaches with grantees.

Designing, implementing, and disseminating data findings across gargantuan systems is how the scientists at ICF hope to bring suicide prevention awareness to the forefront. Before Congress and other stakeholders can move beyond lip service to the mental health discussion, they must face the conclusive, indisputable evidence that only data can provide:

That access to suicide prevention can save more lives.

By Megan Brooks, Dr. Sophia Zanakos, Dr. Robin Davis, and Dr. Christine Walrath
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