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This post was originally published in the Spring 2020 edition of the OCD Newsletter.

Greetings! We’re looking forward to an exciting year ahead for the IOCDF Public Policy Program. In this edition of Advocacy Corner, we will dive in to an important public health issue – suicide prevention – and share some of the ways that the IOCDF has been working to support suicide prevention efforts on Capitol Hill.

We know that suicide is an understandably difficult topic for many members of our community. If you or a family member are experiencing thoughts of suicide and need help, we urge you to call the national suicide prevention lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK, or text 741-741.

Suicide prevention is a national public health concern of immediate and growing importance. The US Centers for Disease control reports that the rate of death by suicide in the United States has increased by 30% since 1999. Suicide touches people from every walk of life, a reality that was made painfully clear by Representative Susan Wild of Pennsylvania in a moving speech on the floor of the House of Representatives following the suicide of her life partner. We were incredibly fortunate to hear Representative Wild speak at the annual meeting of the Mental Health Liaison Group in December 2019. Her message was that suicide is devastating, but that we are not helpless – we can take action both in our personal lives and through public policy to prevent it.

Until recently, people with OCD were thought to be at a relatively low risk for suicide. However, recent research has revealed that this is a misconception. People with OCD are at significantly increased risk for dying by suicide – 10 times that of the general population – and rates of suicide in OCD are comparable to those seen in other mental health disorders associated with suicide risk, such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) and Hoarding Disorder, mental health disorders related to OCD, are also linked to higher rates of suicide attempts and deaths.

These statistics underscore that suicide prevention is not only a general public health concern, but is also of crucial importance to the OCD and related disorders community. For this reason, we have made suicide prevention a part of the IOCDF’s advocacy work, and have been supporting legislation including:

  • HR 4861, which would create a Federal grant program to improve suicide screening protocols in hospital emergency departments across the country. Research has found that up to 11% of emergency department patients are experiencing suicidal ideation, but only a small fraction are effectively screened and referred to mental health services. The IOCDF joined the Emergency Nurses Association and other members of the Mental Health Liaison group in sending letters to legislative leaders advocating for this bill’s passage.
  • The STANDUP Act (S 2492), which incentivizes schools to train students in identify warning signs that a peer may be suicidal and how to seek help for themselves or a peer. We joined Sandy Hook Promise and other organizations in calling on Senate leaders to advance this bill.
  • The Barriers to Suicide Act (HR 4309), which would fund efforts by state and local governments to install nets and barriers at high risk bridge locations. Research has found that bridge barriers reduce suicides, and that those who are averted by a barrier typically do not seek out a secondary method. We joined the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the American Psychological Association in providing letters to our allies in Congress to help them demonstrate how much national mental health organizations support the passage of this bill.

Additionally, we have been active in efforts to establish an easily-remembered, three-digit number that will connect callers anywhere in the US with a local suicide prevention hotline.

While we believe that these legislative efforts will reduce suicides – including suicides completed by people with OCD and related disorders – they are only a part of the solution. Providing an early, correct diagnosis and effective treatment are essential, alongside reducing the stigma that prevents people from seeking help in the first place. We look forward to sharing the IOCDF’s policy advocacy work in these areas in a future edition of the Advocacy Corner!

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