Learning from Loss: Improving Suicide Fatality Reviews for Effective Prevention Activities
Special Projects Fund
March 20, 2019
Annually, an estimated 1,700 New Yorkers die by suicide, and 539,000 have suicidal thoughts.
These numbers may even underestimate the actual number of suicides in New York State because of limitations in the current system for suicide death reporting. Without the presence of a suicide note or a well-documented history of suicide attempts, coroners and medical examiners (CMEs) are unlikely to declare a death a suicide, especially in the case of an overdose death. Such misclassifications can impede the development of effective prevention strategies. In 2019, NYSHealth awarded the Suicide Prevention Center of New York (SPCNY) a grant to improve the current system for suicide death reporting and prevention initiatives.
Under this grant, SPCNY will replicate an Oregon pilot that trains CMEs to more accurately classify suicide deaths and transfer the information into the State’s Violent Death Reporting System. In Oregon, the new system made it easier to identify risk factors, allowing the State to work with community organizations and medical providers to better develop targeted interventions and treatments. SPCNY’s project will replicate the Oregon pilot in four New York counties that have large numbers of annual suicides: Suffolk, Westchester, Onondaga, and Saratoga. SPCNY will develop, test, and refine the suicide fatality review process and death investigation data collection tool, then train a review team of CMEs and medicolegal death investigators on the new system. The new system will provide a more complete picture of the circumstances surrounding suicides to inform prevention initiatives at the State and local levels. SPCNY will present on this model at the annual New York State Suicide Prevention Conference, hold educational webinars, and create a train-the-trainer program so that the model can expand across New York State.