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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 16, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 11
Youth Suicide Prevention Program makes progress
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Youth Suicide Prevention Program makes progress

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Associate Editor

This week, mental health professionals are celebrating the successful passage of the Matt Adler Suicide Assessment, Treatment, and Management Training Act of 2012 (ESHB 2366) by Washington state lawmakers.

The Matt Adler Act requires frontline mental health practitioners and occupational therapists to receive basic and continuing education in identifying and managing suicide risks without increasing the required number of continuing education credits they must have.

Jenn Stuber, a professor at the University of Washington who personally experienced this crisis one year ago when her husband took his own life, advocated this bill. An accomplished attorney and father to their two young children, Matt Adler was under care for severe depression and an anxiety disorder. After weeks of independent research on suicidology and looking at his medical records, Jenn discovered that appropriate attention had not been paid to the obvious risk he posed to himself. Since then, she has been advocating for change.

Victoria Wagner, executive director for the Youth Suicide Prevention Program (YSPP) based in Washington state, said the passage of the Matt Adler bill is very important. 'Currently, many health and mental health practitioners are inadequately trained - or not trained at all - in the detection, assessment, management, and treatment of suicidal persons,' she told Seattle Gay News. 'Our state practitioners are required to receive specific education on HIV/AIDS and it is not even among the 20 leading causes of death, while there is currently no requirement to address suicide, which causes significantly more deaths.'

'Now, practitioners will have training that will help them recognize the suicide warning signs and refer a person struggling with these thoughts to the help they need,' Wagner said. 'We have worked with Matt's wife Jenn Stuber as she made this very difficult journey to bring this bill to a law. While we would like to see it have longer training requirements, we worked with the group to advocate for the passage and are delighted that it has received such favorable reception.'

Suicide prevention is very important - and can save lives, said Wagner. 'On average, at least two youths in Washington state die by suicide every week, 17 more are hospitalized, and one in 10 have admitted to having thoughts of suicide,' she said. 'Those who consider suicide don't actually want to die. They want someone to see their pain and help them. By teaching people the suicide warning signs, and what to do and what to say when someone is considering suicide, a person is more likely to get the help they need.'

Having the Matt Adler Suicide Assessment, Treatment, and Management Training Act of 2012 signed into law will open the door for YSPP experts to do more trainings in communities across the state and teach more people what to do and what to say when a young person's life is at risk.

'It is early to tell if YSPP will play a role in the implementation,' said Wagner. 'It is, however, great to see the legislature finally acknowledge the health crisis of suicide, and require mental health professionals to have the training necessary to detect, assess, manage, and treat suicidal behavior.'

YSPP is one of the lead agencies in the state of Washington, providing suicide prevention and, in targeted counties, intervention.

Still, funding remains a problem for YSPP's OUTLoud program; the state's only LGBTQ youth suicide prevention arm.

'Unfortunately the OUTLoud model, while recognized as a leader, struggles to find sustainable funding,' said Wagner. 'We have received small grants - the Pride Foundation and RealNetworks - but there are limited funds available. YSPP has recognized the critical needs that OUTLoud addresses and continues to try to fund the program through private funds.'

More than 30% of LGBTQ youth reported at least one suicide attempt within the last year. More than 50% of Transgender youth will have made at least one suicide attempt by their 20th birthday.

'OUTLoud program staff and YSPP field coordinators work in Seattle, Spokane, and other urban and rural areas across the state to facilitate educational presentations for teachers and community providers to enhance their recognition of the risk and protective factors for LGBTQ youth, and to recognize the warning signs for suicide and self-harm,' Wagner said. 'OUTLoud staff also partner with LGBTQ youth to deliver educational presentations to teens and young adults in groups like Gay-Straight Alliances.'

The OUTLoud program addresses not only suicide prevention but also bias-based bullying.

'This is a critical program to make things better now in the lives of LGBTQ young people,' Wagner concluded.

For more information about YSPP or to make a donation to OUTLoud, visit www.yspp.org.

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