Policy Priority: Diverse, Underserved, and Disproportionately Impacted Communities and Populations
AFSP fights against discriminatory policies and seeks to learn from and with diverse individuals and communities how to best promote mental health and prevent suicide in underserved areas.
Our fight includes advocating for improved data collection and access to culturally-informed and evidence-informed mental healthcare and suicide prevention services and supports for specific populations at increased risk for suicidal behavior.
Certain communities and populations continue to be underrepresented in suicide research and face disproportionate inequities in accessing the care, support, and services needed to improve mental health and prevent suicide. These can include individuals and communities of color (including, but not limited to, African American and Black communities; American Indian, Alaskan Native, Hawaiian Native, and other indigenous peoples and communities; Asian American and Pacific Islander communities; and Chicano, Latinx, and Hispanic communities); LGBTQ individuals and communities; individuals living with disabilities and other chronic health conditions; and those experiencing perinatal mental health disorders. This can also include individuals who are employed in certain roles such as first responders, corrections staff, frontline healthcare workers, and Servicemembers and Veterans. Suicide and suicidal behavior also continue to be a major public health crisis among youth and young adults; there have been recent concerning increases in suicide rates among youth from particular racial, ethnic, and minoritized populations, and research shows that experience with discrimination impacts youths’ risk for suicidal thoughts.
First Responders, Corrections Staff, and Frontline Healthcare Workers
Research has highlighted the link between suicide among first responders and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or Post Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSD/PTSI). First responders, corrections staff, and frontline healthcare workers often experience occupational hazards and stressors on the job, such as traumatic events and shift work, which can in turn increase risk for suicidal behavior or exacerbate existing risk for suicide related to other factors. Individuals employed in these fields may also experience a culture that discourages showing perceived signs of weakness or vulnerability, which can contribute to a reluctance to seek help or self-disclose behavioral health concerns or suicidal thoughts. AFSP supports policies that seek to create a workplace culture where it is a sign of strength to seek help and that supports first responders, corrections staff, and healthcare workers in all aspects of their health, including behavioral health.
- Identify PTSD/PTSI suffered by a first responder and corrections staff as a compensable, work-related injury.
- Extend eligibility for life insurance benefits to families of first responders who die by suicide.
- Establish employee assistance programs (EAPs), peer-support programs, additional federal funding sources, and training programs for job-related stress management, burnout prevention, and suicide prevention.
- Provide privacy protections for healthcare workers seeking care from within their own health systems.
LGBTQ Individuals and Communities
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer persons and those who are questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity (LGBTQ) experience significant health and behavioral health disparities, including elevated rates of suicide attempts. Data on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression are not routinely collected at the time of death, which means researchers do not have reliable data about LGBTQ suicide deaths. However, research has shown that the social stigma, prejudice, and discrimination associated with minority sexual orientation contributes to the elevated rates of suicidal thoughts, plans, and attempts and poorer mental health found in LGB people. This includes institutional discrimination resulting from laws and public policies that create inequities or fail to provide protections against sexual orientation-based discrimination. Experiences of stigma and discrimination increase risk of depression and other risk factors for suicidality, while protective actions like increasing acceptance and affirmation of LGBTQ identities and increasing access to LGBTQ-affirming physical and mental healthcare reduce the likelihood of LGBTQ suicide attempts and deaths and promote wellbeing.
- Integrate LGBTQ populations into existing data collection tools on suicide mortality and risk behavior.
- Support bans on conversion therapy/sexual orientation change efforts.
- Oppose restrictions on access to gender-affirming medical care.
- Oppose restrictions on discussion in schools on LGBTQ issues.
Veterans, Servicemembers, and Their Families
Suicide risk among Veterans and Servicemembers is greater than that of the general population. The VA’s 2022 National Suicide Prevention Annual Report states the suicide rate among Veterans in 2020 was 57.3% higher than that of non-Veteran adults. A 2021 report stated that, since 9/11, suicides among active-duty personnel and Veterans were four times higher than deaths during military operations. The U.S. Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs have done much in recent years to address this issue, and AFSP advocates for continued funding and other supports to continue and scale these efforts.
- Increase awareness of and access to behavioral healthcare, suicide prevention and crisis response services, and community supports for Servicemembers, Veterans, and their families.
- Improve data collection on Servicemember and Veteran suicide deaths and attempts.
- Increase suicide risk screening for Servicemembers upon discharge/transition to civilian life.
Children, Teens, and Young Adults
Children, teens, and young adults are continuing to experience significant stressors and disruptions related to the pandemic. Rates of psychological distress among youth have increased, including symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions, as have the number of young people visiting the emergency department for mental health emergencies and suspected suicide attempts. Even pre-pandemic, mental health challenges were the leading cause of disability and poor life outcomes in young people. AFSP recognizes these challenges and continues to prioritize policies that increase the ability of K-12 schools, colleges, and universities – and the adults that interact with youth regularly in those spaces -- to recognize and support students at risk for suicide.
- Maintain and expand funding and grant programs for suicide prevention in K-12 schools and higher education.
- Implement and support comprehensive K-12 school mental health and suicide prevention, intervention, and postvention initiatives and policies, including requirements for personnel training, student education, caregiver education, excused student mental health absences, and regular student, parent, and staff notification of resource availability.
- Require higher education policies and procedures to include how to support students experiencing a behavioral health condition or suicidal crisis and require schools to make those policies and related resources widely known and available to all students, faculty, and staff.