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February 26, 2021

King, Murkowski Introduce Bipartisan, Bicameral Bill to Prevent Suicides

WASHINGTON, D.C. –  U.S. Senators Angus King (I-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) have reintroduced the Effective Suicide Screening and Assessment in the Emergency Department Act, bipartisan legislation aimed at empowering emergency room personnel at health facilities to proactively identify, assess, and treat individuals at risk of suicide. The bill would create a voluntary grant program to assist emergency departments and medical professionals to develop protocols to support those most at risk for suicide, including those with severe mental health conditions or substance use disorders. Companion legislation has been introduced in the House of Representatives by Representatives Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.) and Darren Soto (D-Fla.).

“Each year, we lose hundreds of Maine people to suicides who leave behind shattered families – and as the pandemic has heightened anxiety and deepened isolation, communities across the nation have seen suicide rates increase,” said Senator King. “We must do everything in our power to confront this health crisis, and prevent these devastating tragedies. That starts with proactively engaging with at-risk people, and giving medical and emergency personnel the tools and training they need to support those in need. We need to work together, and ensure that everyone who is struggling is able to get help.”

“I’m proud to once again support legislation to improve emergency department mental health screening, assessment, and treatment for individuals at risk of suicide, providing support to those in the emergency room who are often the first line of defense when it comes to suicide prevention. Screening programs are a safe and effective component of suicide prevention efforts, meaning this legislation is an opportunity to help save more lives. At a time when suicide rates have increased across the country, the pressing need for improving the suicide prevention capabilities of our emergency departments has never been more critical,” said Senator Murkowski.

Since 2001, the suicide rate in the United States has risen by a shocking 31%, making suicide the 10th leading cause of death in the nation, with an estimated 47,000 lives lost each year. A 2016 study found that 11% of all emergency department patients exhibited suicidal ideation; however, only 3% of those patients were diagnosed by current screening tools. Additionally, statistics show that up to 70% of patients who leave the emergency department after a suicide attempt never attend their first outpatient follow-up appointment.  

As financial uncertainty and increased isolation have caused negative health impacts on Americans, Senator King has emphasized the importance of supporting mental health. Last year, the Senate unanimously passed legislation cosponsored by Senator King that would designate 9-8-8 as the national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline. Senator King joined a bipartisan group of 13 other Senators in a push to provide the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL) with $80 million to support critical suicide prevention activities. Senator King also led a group of 20 Senators in a letter urging increased investments in mental and behavior health in any future coronavirus legislation, following reports showing Americans are experiencing negative mental health effects due to the pandemic.

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