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MAMH Testimony for Promote Prevent Coalition

Below is the text of the testimony by Genevieve Mulligan to the Promote Prevent Coalition from July 2017

Thank you Chairman Cantwell for the opportunity to testify today. I want to thank the committee for taking the time to talk about the important issue of prevention, it's a topic that can have far reaching effects but gets too little attention. My name is Genevieve Mulligan and I work for the Massachusetts Association for Mental Health. Danna Mauch from the Association will also be submitting testimony at a later date but given the importance of the issue, we wanted to testify here as well.

I want to talk specifically about suicide prevention, particularly in youth. The CDC report on youth risk behavior from 2016 showed that in MA, 27.4% of high school students surveyed reported being sad or hopeless, 15% of students reported seriously considering attempting suicide, 12% of students made a suicide plan, and 7% of students attempted suicide.

MAMH has a long history of prevention and postvention work for suicide impacting individuals, families, schools, and communities. When schools and towns have dealt with the loss associated with a single or multiple suicide(s), MAMH has gone in with an expert clinical debriefing team to talk with communities and conduct workshops, knowing that one of the biggest risk factors for suicide is knowing someone who has taken their life. Currently, we are focused on the need for universal prevention of suicide - adapting an evidence based practice across Massachusetts- because we know that getting to a community after a suicide is too late.

One of the prevention programs found to be effective is used in multiple schools in MA - the Signs of Suicide program, or SOS. Exposure to this program has been associated with significantly fewer self-reported suicide attempts and greater knowledge and more adaptive attitudes towards depression and suicide. In one study, 9th grade students who received the SOS intervention were 64% less likely to report a suicide attempt compared to the control group. Perhaps the most important thing about this program and what is harder to capture in research, is that it gives young people the language to talk about suicide and depression.

On a more personal note, I volunteer for the Samaritans suicide hotline and one thing I've noticed throughout my time there is the particular desperation that young people have when they call. While it is not the case for everyone that calls, often these kids believe that they do have family and friends that care about them and might understand but they have no idea how to talk to them and haven't told anyone about the pain that they have been going through. With a program like SOS, we can give young people the tools to talk about suicide and depression and we can prevent hundreds of deaths across the commonwealth. I encourage you to consider wide adoption of the SOS program.

Thank you for your time.