The Senate Health and Welfare Committee approved legislation on Wednesday establishing a Tennessee Suicide Mortality Data Review and Prevention Team in the Department of Health to address the growing number of adult suicides in Tennessee. The Suicide Prevention Act of 2018, which is sponsored by Senate Health and Welfare Committee Chairman Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City), calls for the team to gather suicide data identifying causes and factors in order to direct limited prevention resources in the most effective way possible.
“Almost twice as many people die by suicide than by homicide in Tennessee,” said Senator Crowe. “On any given day, three people in Tennessee die by suicide and the rates have increased steadily over the past three years. This legislation brings together the state’s foremost experts to analyze important data regarding these deaths so that we have the best plan of action to reduce suicides in Tennessee.”
There were 1,110 suicide deaths in 2016, which is the highest number recorded in Tennessee in over 35 years of record-keeping. This is compared to 945 deaths in 2014 and 1,065 deaths in 2015.
“These numbers are very alarming,” added Senator Crowe. “If not for the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network and the limited number of staff and the work of the Advisory Council, which is appointed by the governor, all of the statewide volunteers and partners, these numbers would be much higher."
Under the bill, the team would be composed of a physician and a nurse appointed by the Commissioner of Health, as well as designees from the Departments of Health and Mental Health and the chairs of the health committees in the Senate and House of Representatives. The group would make recommendations for changes to any state law or policy that would promote the prevention of suicide deaths or improvements to the way suicides are investigated and/or reported. They could also propose strategies for prevention of suicide deaths on which TSPN can focus. Recommendations would be made to the health committees by January 2020.
TSPN Executive Director Scott Ridgway applauded Senator Crowe's leadership and thanked the Senate Health and Welfare Committee for passing this bill. “I am excited about the potential of this bill,” he said. “Obtaining accurate numbers and other information on suicides in Tennessee will enhance TSPN’s strategic outreach efforts to be able to better prevent the tragedy of suicide in Tennessee. One suicide is one too many"
The legislation dovetails with the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention, as issued by the office of the U.S. Surgeon General, that calls for local health officials to routinely collect, analyze, report, and use suicide-related data to implement prevention efforts.