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Mandated Suicide Prevention Training

Earlier this year, the New Jersey General Assembly unanimously passed a bill mandating applicants for a variety of Clinical Mental Health Licensure, including alcohol and drug counselors, to receive suicide prevention training. Currently licensed practitioners will need to complete this training within one year of this bill’s enactment. Proof of completion for four hours of suicide prevention training will need to be submitted to the appropriate authority and renewed every six years. Approved suicide prevention training programs will be determined by The Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs in the Department of Law and Public Safety (DCA). The DCA will also provide procedure by which suicide prevention programs can be authorized to provide this training. Current protocol and training provided or recommended by the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) and other nationally recognized entities of a similar nature will be strongly considered when implementing new training protocol. 

Bill A1443 was introduced and referred to the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens committee following its passage in the General Assembly. Pending approval by the Senate, the Governor of NJ will approve or disapprove the bill.

The correlation between substance abuse and mental health is apparent, especially in the last decade or so. Half of those diagnosed with a Substance Use Disorder (SUD) will also meet diagnostic criteria for a mental illness at some point in their lives. The same is true in reverse. One in four with a serious mental illness (SMI) also are concurrently diagnosed with a SUD. SMI’s are defined at the Federal level as any mental health disorder that either substantially limits or altogether prevents one from participating in major day-to-day activities. The Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC) list SMIs and SUDs as risk factors for suicide. While mental health is an established cause of suicidal behavior, the link between suicide and substance abuse is not as thoroughly researched; however, a correlation between substance abuse and suicide is indicated. Three out of the four precipitating factors (a stressful event triggering suicidal ideation or attempts) listed by SPRC are common experiences of those with SUD’s: serious financial problems, an arrest and the end of a relationship or marriage.

Substance abuse definitively and independently increases risk of suicide by impairing judgement, creating environmental stressors, damaging the physiology of the brain, weakening impulse control and causing a co-morbid mental illness. People who depend on/ abuse substances are about six times more likely to attempt suicide. Completed suicides among addicts are two or three times as high as the national average. Alcohol intoxication is present in 30-40 percent of suicide attempts, and Alcohol Use Disorders have shown to increase risk of suicide ten fold. Intravenous drug use increases that risk up to fourteen times the average. 

Suicide prevention training is pertinent for any mental health clinician, including those that treat Substance Use Disorders. The nature of substance abuse though leads to a particularly high amount of suicide attempts and completions; and thus identifying and preventing addicts from taking their own lives is of paramount importance. According to some, suicide is the leading cause of death among those who misuse drugs and alcohol. This is a problem that Bill A1443 begins to address, and is hopefully just one piece of legislature in many that does so.

As always, if you or a loved one are struggling, please do not hesitate to reach out.