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Faculty & Staff Honors

UMass Amherst Researchers Lead Youth Suicide Prevention Project

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences are collaborating with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) on a five-year, more than $400,000 grant from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), part of a long-term effort to reduce suicide among young people ages 10-24 in the state.

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[Photo: Dr. Gloria DiFulvio]

With this award, the Massachusetts DPH is supporting system-wide changes in two regional hospital systems, Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield and Heyward Hospital in Gardner, to improve early identification, quality and continuity of care for youth at risk of suicide. Dr. Gloria DiFulvio, senior lecturer of community health education, will lead the evaluation of these efforts to reduce suicide mortality for young people.

They were chosen as the two pilot systems because they serve regions that have higher-than-state-average youth suicide rates. Funding will also be used to engage Massachusetts colleges and universities in assessing campus needs and resources for addressing suicide risk in college settings.

Dr. DiFulvio says, “In Massachusetts, youth suicide is a serious and growing public health problem. For the five year period 2009 through 2013, suicide rates among Massachusetts youth 10-24 years of age increased 62 percent from 3.9 to 6.3 per 100,000 persons. Rates are higher in some regions of the state.”

“The hope is that the models of care we are introducing will show promise and can be replicated across other hospitals and statewide systems that serve youth,” she adds. “We’re at the beginning right now; we are starting to get a different understanding of what really makes a difference, how to communicate about suicide and what matters most for youth who need this help.”

Funding for these youth suicide prevention efforts has been appropriated through the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act (GLSMA), named for the son of former Sen. Gordon H. Smith who died by suicide in 2004. Since then, GLSMA has supported 370 youth suicide prevention grants in 50 states and Guam, 48 tribes or tribal organizations and 175 institutions of higher education.

Massachusetts was awarded one of 12 Garrett Lee Smith grants available to states and tribal organizations in fiscal year 2015, the fourth awarded to Massachusetts DPH Suicide Prevention Program since the grant program’s inception. The partnership between Massachusetts DPH and the School of Public Health and Health Sciences has spanned three of the four awards.