Asking About Suicide Is Vital for Suicide Prevention, and Governments Can Lead the Way
Suicide is a problem everywhere — in every country, state, city, and town — and governments have the authority and opportunity to prevent it. In short, they can help save lives. The need is dire, as World Health Organization figures show.
Worldwide, suicide takes a life every 40 seconds and, in a typical year, is responsible for more deaths than war, homicide, and natural disasters combined.
Suicide is the No. 1 cause of death among 15- to 19-year-old girls worldwide, and the second leading cause of death among all people ages 15 to 29. In the U.S., more people die by suicide than in traffic accidents.
The Columbia Protocol Is Helping Governments Save Lives and Target Resources
Asking the right questions to identify who is at risk is a critical first step in suicide prevention. Many governments recognize this and have mandated or encourage the use of suicide risk assessment for public schools and services, such as health centers, hospitals, and police departments. The Columbia Protocol — also known as the Columbia-Suicide Severity Rating Scale (C-SSRS) — is the ideal risk assessment tool for these efforts because it’s:
- Simple. Ask all the questions in a few moments or minutes — with no mental health training required to ask them. That simplicity means governments can comfortably promote the protocol’s use in a variety of settings, knowing that it can be applied effectively without creating a burden.
- Free. The protocol and the training on how to use it are available free of charge for use in community and healthcare settings, as well as in federally funded or nonprofit research. This means governments are not imposing costs on programs and services that use the protocol.
- Efficient. Use of the Columbia Protocol redirects resources to where they’re needed most. It reduces unnecessary referrals and interventions by more accurately identifying who needs help — and it makes it easier to correctly determine the level of support a person needs, such as patient safety monitoring procedures, counseling, or emergency room care.
- Evidence-supported. An unprecedented amount of research has validated the relevance and effectiveness of the questions used in the Columbia Protocol to assess suicide risk, making it the most evidence-based tool of its kind.
- Effective. Real-world experience and data show that the protocol has helped prevent suicide.
- Universal. The Columbia Protocol is suitable for all ages and special populations in different settings and available in more than 100 country-specific languages. This includes modifications that provide ways of asking the questions of younger children and of people with autism, dementia, and other developmental or intellectual disabilities.
“As a parent who lost a son to suicide and a state legislator who helped pass a suicide prevention bill, I am deeply familiar with the vital importance of recognizing suicide risk as early as possible,” says Georgia Sen. Renee Unterman, chairwoman of the Health and Human Services Committee. “These deaths are preventable with the proper policies and practices — and the use of tools like the C-SSRS at schools, hospitals, doctors’ offices, law enforcement agencies, and more.”