Consumer / Employer

CVS Health reports 15.7% reduction in suicide attempts among Aetna members

Among CVS Health’s adult members, there was a 34.1% decrease in suicide attempts in 2022, compared to 2019. However, there was a 32% increase among adolescents, largely due to challenges from Covid-19. In response, CVS Health is expanding its resources with new initiatives that focus on adolescents.

Newly released data by CVS Health showed that its new initiative reduced suicide attempts among Aetna members by 15.7% in 2022, compared to 2019. However, the company did not provide specific data on how many suicide attempts there were in 2019 and what the number declined to.

About 90% of people who die by suicide have an underlying mental health condition that could be treatable, according to the National Library of Medicine. It is with this in mind that CVS Health set out with a goal in 2021 to reduce suicide attempts by 20% among Aetna members by 2025.

“We believe that suicide is, in most instances, preventable,” said Cara McNulty, president of behavioral health at CVS Health, in a recent interview. “We have an opportunity to look at the policies and the system and the solutions we offer to ensure that we can reduce something that doesn’t have to happen.”

The company claims it was especially successful among its adult members, achieving a 34.1% decrease in suicide attempts between 2019 and March 2022. 

The Woonsocket, Rhode Island-based company saw this reduction partially through enhanced screening of its members. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recently recommended that adults under the age of 65 get screened for anxiety and depression.

CVS Health does suicide prevention screening for all members seen by clinical staff to catch warning signs early on. It also does an outreach program for those who have been discharged from an inpatient setting after a suicide attempt, in which it sends a postcard with a toll-free number that is answered 24/7 by Aetna mental health staff. 

But while the retailer asserts that there was a significant decrease in suicide attempts among Aetna adult members, there was a 32% increase for Aetna members aged 13 to 17 in 2022, compared to 2019. This is similar to the trend seen nationwide, largely due to Covid-19, McNulty said.

“If you think about why that is, one, they have nothing to compare [Covid-19] to,” McNulty said. “Not that any of us had been through a pandemic, but as adults, we’ve likely been through a recession or we’ve seen changes in the world that maybe we have a point of reference. Ages 13 to 17, they have nothing to refer to. So everything changed for them: how they went to school, how they interacted, how they spent their leisure time.”

Recognizing this disturbing development, CVS Health is amplifying its efforts with new initiatives specifically focused on adolescents. This includes toolkits for parents and caregivers to help inform them about their child’s mental health and how to provide support and identify warning signs. It also created an outreach program for adolescents that proactively supports families with kids identified to be in need of mental healthcare. Further, its Caring Contacts program aims to reach out to adolescents who have been discharged from an inpatient setting to provide them with care contacts and a care bag of “comfort items,” which includes blankets, lip balms and mints.

CVS Health also partners with digital mental health companies Vita Health and Oui Therapeutics to provide youth support teams and clinical outpatient programs.

“It’s really about focusing on prevention and early intervention,” McNulty said. “So everything from what we’re doing with adolescents and parents and caregivers, the programs we provide and the initiatives we implement, we are getting upfront in that preventive area.”

A year into the program, McNulty said what she’s learned is the importance of normalizing mental healthcare. It’s important to talk about mental health and reinforce that it’s connected with physical health, she declared.

“We have to help [people], especially these adolescents, understand they’re not alone,” McNulty said. “They are absolutely not alone.”

Photo: SDI Productions, Getty Images