President Joe Biden, on the eve of World Suicide Prevention Day, pledged Thursday to address the issue as a health concern and expand resources to combat it, particularly among military veterans.
“My administration is committed to treating suicide as the public health problem it is and helping to address the underlying risk factors for suicide,” Biden said in a statement ahead of World Suicide Prevention Day, observed annually on Sept. 10. “For example, we are working to expand access to mental health and substance use treatment. We are ensuring health insurance plans act in accordance with the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 and cover these critical services at the same level as physical health services.”
In 2019, suicide ranked as the 10th-leading cause of death in the United States and the second-leading cause for people between ages 10 and 34.
And that was before the COVID-19 pandemic compounded, for many, feelings of isolation, exhaustion and economic and public health-related anxieties.
Increased rates of depression have sparked concern for rising suicide rates.
“While there is no one cause of suicide, we know there are many factors that increase a person’s risk for suicide, including the loss of a job, serious illness, and financial, criminal, legal and relationship problems,” Biden said.
The president, who has said he considered suicide after his wife and daughter were killed in a 1972 car crash, added that he’s made veteran suicide prevention a top priority.
Earlier this year, he signed the Sgt. Ketchum Rural Veterans Mental Health Act of 2021, which provides additional mental health care for rural veterans.
Biden requested $598 million to support the Department of Veterans Affairs suicide prevention outreach efforts in his budget. He also proposed $180 million to fund suicide prevention programs at the Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
“This dedicated funding will support programming that focuses on suicide prevention at every age and stage of a person’s life, as well as prevention and intervention programs through health systems,” he said. “Knowing that our nation’s youth have been especially vulnerable to the mental health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the American Rescue Plan I signed into law also includes $20 million in funding specifically for youth suicide prevention.”
Biden noted that the American Rescue Plan provided the third round of economic impact payments, established a homeowner assistance fund, and provided emergency rental assistance.
He said his administration also has committed to addressing suicide by firearm, which statistics show are responsible for over half of all suicide deaths in the United States.
That is one of the reasons the White House published “model red flag laws” for states — allowing family members and law enforcement to petition for temporary firearms ban for individuals who present a danger to themselves or others, the president added.
“When people present a danger to themselves or others, we must reduce their access to lethal means and ensure they have access to mental health services and supports,” he said. “Today, on World Suicide Prevention Day, we remember those whom we lost to suicide, and we reconfirm our support for the millions of Americans who struggle with thoughts of suicide, who are suicide attempt survivors, suicide loss survivors, and those who are working steadfastly to prevent suicide.
“By expanding the crisis line and investing in our Nation’s crisis care infrastructure, we have the opportunity to prevent suicides and save lives,” he said.
If you or a loved one are thinking about suicide, help is available 24/7 by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK or texting HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741. In July, the new Mental Health Crisis Line (988) will take effect.