Suicide is a leading cause of death in the United States. Preventing suicide has been named a national priority and much work has been done to address this public health challenge. There are many causes of suicide death such as diagnosed depression or other mental health conditions, relationship problems, substance abuse, and financial troubles are to name a few. It is rarely caused by any single factor. Suicide is often discussed in the context of mental illness and suicide prevention is considered an issue that mental health agencies and system should address. However, given that mental health conditions are only one of many factors that contribute to suicide risk, it is mandatory upon all sectors of the U.S. healthcare system to adopt evidence-based approaches to identify and care for those at risk for suicide.

Preventing suicide has been named a national priority and much work has been done to address this public health challenge.

Apart from those needing emergency hospitalization, most patients at risk for suicide will benefit from establishing a safety plan with their health care provider. Establishing a safety plan is the best strategy based on evidence. The safety plan should be brief, in the patient’s own words, and easy to read. This plan should describe the patients warning signs, coping strategies, people or settings that provide distraction, people who can help, professionals to contact during a crisis, their contact information, steps to make the patients environment safe and reasons for living.

Establishing a safety plan is the best strategy based on evidence.

Support and clear provider-patient communication, is an important component of suicide safer health care. Providers should always thank the patient for sharing their suicidal thoughts. They should let the patients know that the details of their suicidal thoughts are important but should also know not to be too forceful for the details. It is essential patients have access to a crisis line. Even if the patient never needs to use the crisis number, the provider should help the patient to save the number in their phone. Informing them that it’s good to have it, just in case someone they care about is suicidal. Caring contacts are brief communications with patients during transitions such as discharge from treatment, when patient miss appointments or they drop out of care.  Providers can write letters, call, or do home visits. Through these contacts, care teams continue to provide support for a patient, promote a patient’s feelings towards connection to treatment, and increase engagement in care.

It is essential patients have access to a crisis line.

Concert Health hosts monthly informational sessions tailored to equip groups across the country with the necessary insight to bring state of the art behavioral health care into their practice. Contact abir@concerthealth.io for more information on our upcoming webinars, or if you would like to schedule a Suicide Safer Care training for your organization.

About the Author

Virna Little, PsyD, LCSW is a co-founder and the Chief Operating Officer of Concert Health. In 2017, she joined as the Director of the Center for Innovation in Mental Health  at the Center for Innovation In Mental Health at the City University of New York school of Public. Dr. Little has a doctoral degree in psychology from California Coast University and a masters in social work from Fordham University.  She is known for her work in integrated care and utilizing electronic health records in suicide prevention. She is a senior faculty for Zero Suicide. Dr. Little has been recognized in 2018 with the kree/Wittman NASW award, the Paul Ramos award for New York Community Health center Association, Award for Excellence in Suicide prevention, and Social Worker of the Year award, Negley Presidents Award for Data Drive Risk Management Processes are a few of the recognitions she has received in her career.