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URMC / News / Peter Wyman Chosen to Co-Lead Suicide Prevention Task Force

Peter Wyman Chosen to Co-Lead Suicide Prevention Task Force

Psychiatry Professor Known for his Work to Prevent Adolescent Suicides

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Peter Wyman, Ph.D.
Peter Wyman, Ph.D.

New York State has the fifth highest number of suicides in the nation. There were 1,652 suicides in 2015 alone, and it is estimated that for every suicide death there are 25 non-fatal attempts.

To address this serious issue, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo recently announced the creation of a Suicide Prevention Task Force that will be co-chaired by Peter Wyman, Ph.D., professor of Psychiatry. The task force, which was first announced in Governor Cuomo's 2017 State of the State Address, recently held its first meeting in Albany.

Wyman is co-chairing the task force with Christopher Tavella, Ph.D., executive deputy commissioner of the New York State Office of Mental Health. Together with leaders from state agencies, local governments, not-for-profit groups, and other experts, they will examine and evaluate current suicide prevention programs, services and policies, and make recommendations to support populations in need. 

Adolescents account for a disproportionately high number of hospitalizations and emergency room visits for self-inflicted injuries, and

Wyman hopes to bring his adolescent-focused research and experience to bear in this arena.

Wyman is highly regarded for his decades of research about how peer group influence can be leveraged to promote health, and has worked to implement state-funded suicide prevention programs at more than 60 schools across the state.

In addition to adolescents, the task force will focus on high-risk demographic groups and special populations, including members of the LGBTQ community, veterans, individuals with mental illness, and those struggling with drug and alcohol dependency. Veterans in New York State represent more than 15 percent of suicides, while nationally, LGBTQ adolescents are four times more likely to have attempted suicide than their non-LGBTQ peers.  Other high-risk populations include middle-aged men and Latina adolescents.

The Task Force will also explore methods to address and prevent bullying and cyber-bullying, which negatively impact an individual's mental health, and in some cases have caused a number of children and young adults to take their own lives.

“We are fortunate to have accomplished task force members representing education, aging and substance use services, non-profits, county governments, researchers, and other sectors,” said Wyman.  “One aim is to increase awareness of the suicide prevention opportunities in each of those sectors. Services that decrease isolation among older adults, reduce substance use, or increase the coping abilities of youth—for example—are not ordinarily considered suicide prevention, However, these services can play a vital role by touching on the diverse factors that contribute to suicidal vulnerability or protect against it.“

URMC and other New York State health care organizations have led the way nationally in developing innovative ways to prevent suicide, Wyman said. The task force will look at ways to promote this work more broadly, he said, while also benefitting from other innovations led by county governments and non-profits.

“We will be exploring ways to leverage information about suicides in timely ways to support a full range of interventions,” he said.

Other URMC representatives on the task force include professor and former chair of Psychiatry Eric Caine, M.D., and professor Yeates Conwell, M.D., who co-direct URMC’s Center for the Study and Prevention of Suicide (CSPS)

A full list of Task Force members can be found here.

Media Contact

Christine Roth

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