If you happened to listen to NPR last Monday, Nov. 2 when they aired this story, “What Happens if You Try to Prevent Every Single Suicide?” perhaps you were also struck at the similarities between suicide prevention and child sexual abuse prevention.
While there’s been a decline in the national homicide rate since the 1990s, suicide has been steadily increasing. In Detroit, to reduce the number of suicides, at-risk populations (people being treated for depression and other mental illnesses) have been targeted and assigned to appropriate care depending on initial screenings used to indicate how likely they might be to attempt suicide. This proactive approach is a marked departure from the past 15 years.
“The plan […] is intensive and thorough, an almost cookbook approach. Primary care doctors screen every patient with two questions: How often have you felt down in the past two weeks? And how often have you felt little pleasure in doing things? A high score leads to more questions about sleep disturbances, changes in appetite, thoughts of hurting oneself. All patients are questioned on every visit.
If the health providers recognize a mental health problem, patients are assigned to appropriate care — cognitive behavioral therapy, drugs, group counseling, or hospitalization if necessary. On each patient's medical record, providers have to attest to having done the screening, and they record plans for any needed care.”
Like suicide, child sexual abuse carries significant shame. In order to change beliefs and attitudes around both suicide and child sexual abuse, we need to continue to stigmatize the behavior while destigmiatizing asking for help. And like suicide prevention, we need to change the conversation from the idea that suicide and child sexual abuse are inevitable (“we can’t prevent them all”) to the belief that both are, in fact, 100% preventable with a targeted, evidence-based prevention program aimed at at-risk populations.