Washington became the first state in the nation to require suicide assessment and management training for licensed social workers, therapists, counselors and psychologists.
The Matt Adler Suicide Assessment, Treatment, and Management Act was signed into law in 2012 and went into effect in January.
The statute, which was amended to include other health professions, such as doctors and nurses, says qualified participants must complete training in suicide assessment, treatment and management every six years as part of their continuing education requirements.
Hoyt Suppes, former executive director of NASW’s Washington State Chapter, said chapter leaders supported the legislation.
“The youth and veteran suicide rate in the country and state of Washington is alarming and we have to do more to identify youth and veterans — and others — who are at risk of suicide,” Suppes said.
Jonathan Beard, president of NASW-Washington State, said passage of the bill is important, in part, because it raises awareness of what has been a somewhat taboo topic.
“That helps bring the topics of mental health and mental illness much more into the mainstream, reducing stigma and discrimination and promoting access to treatment,” Beard said.
He added that he hopes the new law will save lives.
“Washington’s rate of death by suicide is well above the national average,” Beard said. “We hope that with increased competencies and confidence, social workers and the many other health care professionals affected by the legislation will successfully intervene with people (who) are suicidal and we will see that rate go down.”
While comparable legislation is being proposed in other states, some NASW chapters are taking a cautious approach to supporting similar trainings as a mandate.
One example is the Colorado Suicide Coalition, which promoted similar legislation this year, said Renee Rivera, executive director of the NASW Colorado Chapter.
She noted that while the chapter supports suicide prevention training, its legislative committee disagreed with using the state’s requirement of Continuing Professional Development (or Continue Education in other states) to address the issue.
“It’s one of those ‘slippery slope’ situations,” Rivera said. “ We believe that topics and areas of focus for CE should be left to the discretion of the practitioner — and in fact the model we use in our state CPD is based on that concept. Because social work is such a varied profession in terms of practice areas, with specialties and subspecialties, it is important that the professional focus her CE on topics that are pertinent to her area of practice.”
Rivera said once the state begins identifying required topics for CEs, it opens the potential for other advocacy groups to demand similar action. But she doesn’t want the chapter to appear unconcerned about the need for greater suicide awareness.
“It can look like we are against suicide prevention efforts — which is patently not true,” Rivera said. “One of the strategic things we did was tell the Suicide Prevention Coalition that we would work hard to regularly include CE opportunities on suicide prevention as it is an important issue.”
Some other NASW chapters are active in their state debates on training professionals in suicide risk and management.
Carmen Weisner, executive director of the NASW Louisiana Chapter, said the state does not have a mandate, but lawmakers did pass a law that would require the Department of Health and Human Services to post a listing of training opportunities on the subject.
The NASW-Tennessee Chapter continues to have dialogue with the authors of similar legislation in the state. Meanwhile, in California, the governor vetoed a bill mandating suicide training, saying the licensing board could authorize it instead, noted NASW-California Executive Director Janlee Wong.