The Charger Blog

Health Administration and Policy Professor Endeavors to Start Statewide Conversation about Suicide Prevention

Moved by the devastating impact that suicide had on the life of one of his students, Alvin Tran, Ph.D. is urging public health officials and lawmakers to address what he calls a “preventable public health problem,” as suicide rates among young people continue to increase across the country.

December 5, 2019

By Alvin Tran, Ph.D., assistant professor of health administration and policy

Image of Alvin Tran, Ph.D.
Alvin Tran, Ph.D. (right) recently met with lawmakers at the Massachusetts State House to discuss the need for mental health-related legislation. He plans to organize similar efforts in Connecticut.

This semester I had the privilege of teaching two health-focused sections of “Principles of Communication,” commonly known as “COMM 1130” throughout campus. My students were mostly first-years and represented a number of the University’s majors – from health sciences and dental hygiene to biology and paramedicine.

As part of the course, I tasked my students to give a compelling oral presentation about a topic they are passionate about. And, they delivered. From eating disorders prevention to the need to address mental health concerns among youth, my students presented on a broad range of highly important topics.

One student’s presentation on overcoming adversity left our classroom (myself included) overcome with emotion. In her presentation, she described the impact of losing one of her close friends in high school to suicide – an event that not only affected her but those around her.

"I strongly believe in collective action to enact positive change."Alvin Tran, Ph.D.

To make it through this difficult time, her entire community of friends, teachers, and family members came together. They organized fundraisers and awareness campaigns around suicide prevention, particularly among youth. Most importantly, they were each other’s sources of support. Together as a community they were able to overcome the tragedy they faced.

Suicide, defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control as death caused by injuring oneself with the intent to die, is a large and growing public health issue. In the United States, it is the 10th leading cause of death across all age groups. It is also the second leading cause of death among young Americans between 15 to 24 years, according to a recent report from the National Center for Health Statistics. The recent data also suggest that the national suicide rate among adolescents is increasing.

In our great state of Connecticut, public health officials have not observed an increasing trend in suicide among teenagers. But our state is not completely out of the woods. Suicide remains prevalent across all age groups and is the highest among white men ages 45 years and older.

“Overall, from 2015 to 2019, people less than or equal to 24 years old account for 10 percent of Connecticut’s suicides,” according to epidemiologist Mike Makowski of the Connecticut Department of Public Health. “Ninety percent of Connecticut’s suicides occur in people who are 25 years old and older.”

So, what can be done to address this preventable public health problem in Connecticut?

As an assistant professor in health administration and policy, I strongly believe in collective action to enact positive change. To address suicide, metal health disorders, and other preventable health concerns in Connecticut, we – as residents of Connecticut – need to come together to voice our concerns, share the available research evidence we possess, and propose potential solutions to changemakers in our community, including our elected lawmakers. Our concerns and lived experiences matter and should be heard.

"We – as residents of Connecticut – need to come together to voice our concerns."Alvin Tran, Ph.D.

Fortunately, the University’s School of Health Sciences is in a unique position to collaborate with mental health experts and state- and local-level lawmakers to organize a policy summit to discuss the toll of suicide in our state.

We have planned a Suicide Prevention Policy Summit, scheduled for Wednesday, December 11, to highlight the growing concern around suicide and foster discussion around potential policy and community-level solutions our lawmakers can implement in Connecticut.

I invite all those interested in suicide prevention to register and attend this upcoming policy summit. Similar to the story my student shared in my COMM 1130 class, I believe this public health issue can be ultimately addressed through collective action. As a community, not only can we overcome adversity, but we can also use our collective minds to propose, inform, and enact changes to promote public health in our state.