Trigger Warning: The below blog post is focused on suicide prevention, suicide, and mental healthcare.
COVID-19 has exacerbated mental health concerns, especially in young people. This is important as suicide has already increased more than 50 percent among those aged 10 to 24 over the two decades leading up to 2018. Suicide is also the second leading cause of death among young people, according to CDC studies published in JAMA. And, the Trevor Project’s 2020 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that 40 percent of all LGBTQ respondents had seriously considered attempting suicide in the past 12 months.
We know from Anthem, Inc’s State of the Nation’s Mental Health Report that in spite of Americans’ increased emotional distress resulting from the pandemic, there is a disconnect between this escalated distress and a flat rate of diagnosis in 2020. Suicide can be the result of an untreated mental health condition. One in four young adults globally are estimated to be experiencing depression in 2020 and 2021, according to a global study published in JAMA.
We believe mental health is health. Physical and mental health are linked and must be addressed equally and in tandem for overall, whole-person health. It is critical that anyone thinking about suicide or who is experiencing a mental health concern gets help. Suicide is not inevitable. For every person who dies by suicide, 280 people seriously consider suicide but do not kill themselves. It’s never the wrong time to ask for assistance.
Our role is critical as our health plans insure one of six Americans for mental health needs. We have a role and responsibility to support members, address their mental health concerns and get the help they need.
Anthem health plans are making strides to help prevent suicide—particularly among young people who are at the greatest risk. Our mental health programs focusing on suicide and its prevention draw on traditional and digital tools, as well as predictive analytics gleaned from our data. When we know who is most at risk, we have the potential to intervene before harm occurs and help save lives and prevent grief for friends and families.
We are continually looking for new treatment alternatives, such as digital approaches, to connect members with care in the way they are comfortable receiving it. One of these approaches that reduced suicide attempts by half involves referred members using a mobile app for telehealth sessions and texting between sessions to work on exercises to retrain their thinking process about suicide. One study showed this led to a greater than 50 percent reduction in teen deaths.
For people experiencing immediate crisis, several hotlines are available throughout the United States with trained responders, including the National Suicide Prevention Hotline (800-273-8255 in English and 888-628-9454 in Spanish). We also operate many of the state crisis hotlines and manage contracts for several mobile crisis units in different communities to help quickly resolve member crises. In our experience, crisis hotlines are able to work with individuals to resolve upwards of 75% of calls without the need for higher levels of intervention – this means we help support the individuals at their time of crisis and also help them quickly access the resources they need. When mobile crisis teams respond, more than 80% of the visits resolve without the need for emergency department of inpatient care.
Health equity is a key driver for mental and physical well-being. We must eliminate barriers to achieve individual and community health in a sustainable way. We know teens, young adults and especially young Black men and LGBTQ youth are more impacted by suicide and suicide attempts.
We have supported several screening and educational tools for high-risk groups, such as:
- A depression and anxiety screener made culturally relevant for Black people in English on Take Action for Health, and Latino/Hispanic people in English and Spanish on Taking Action for Our Health.
- Shine Light on Depression providing ready-to-use depression awareness and suicide prevention resources for schools, families and teens.
Mental health and suicide are critical health issues and part of our role is to help advance research and care, including:
- Supporting the development of data collection mechanisms to track suicide deaths in the United States in real-time to enable health professionals and researchers to bolster efforts to prevent suicide. Public data today is tracking two years behind.
- Supporting appropriate public funding for a future 9-8-8 universal number for mental health crises and suicide prevention, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and other crisis services important in serving people at risk of suicide.
Anthem is committed to connecting members to mental health care, including self-care tools, community resources and identifying potential barriers that impact treatment in a way that is innovative and guided by people with lived experience and data.