Maryland bill aims to shed light on suicide, spark prevention efforts

A Maryland bill aims to shed light on suicides by identifying trends and patterns in an effort to prevent them.

Del. Lisa Belcastro said she has not been directly affected by suicide but in her work with the legislation, which includes mental health and suicide, she has learned how many people across the state, including in her district, have been “touched by suicide.”

She has been looking into ways to create legislation aimed at prevention, and she saw how one county in Oregon came up with a suicide review panel and developed interventions to identify people who might be considering taking their lives.

That led her to sponsor HB48, which would establish a Maryland Suicide Fatality Review Committee.

Belcastro explained the value of compiling detailed data on suicides. “You can start to identify trends and patterns. And when you can identify trends and patterns, you can start to identify solutions.”

At a hearing on the bill in January, Janel Cubbage, former chair of the State Suicide Prevention Commission, said the bill could offer a deeper analysis of the circumstances surrounding suicides in Maryland.

“One of the biggest challenges was not having the qualitative data needed for tailored prevention,” she said. “We had access to the how many and the how much, but not the what, the how and the why.”

According to language in the bill, an average of 530 people die by suicide in Maryland every year. “Someone close to you has been touched by an incident of suicide, and it deeply impacts those individuals,” Belcastro said.

And the suicide rate has increased by 18% in Maryland, according to Paul Nestadt, a psychiatrist and suicide researcher at Johns Hopkins, who testified in favor of the bill before the House Health and Government Operations Committee.

“We’re still waiting to measure the full mental health impact left by the pandemic; we might see more of an increase,” he said.

The bill has passed in both the House and Senate and is waiting for Gov. Larry Hogan’s signature. Maryland’s General Assembly session ends April 11.

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

This article was written by WTOP’s news partners at Maryland Matters and republished with permission. Sign up for Maryland Matters’ free email subscription today.

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