Use National Suicide Prevention Week To Educate Both Inside & Outside The Healthcare Workplace

April 1, 2021
April 1, 2021

When we hear about a person’s suicide, the first thought often is “I had no idea they were in such pain,” or “I wish I’d done more.” Those are common and fully understandable reactions, because suicide remains an elusive and difficult to pin down foe. Meanwhile, each year more than 41,000 individuals die by suicide. That’s why looking outward, as well as assessing our own lives, is key to full participation in National Suicide Prevention Week from Sept. 8-14, 2019.

And there is so much that can be done in the healthcare setting. According to Jerry Reed, PhD, MSW, Director of the National Suicide Prevention Resource Center,

  • Up to 45 percent of individuals who die by suicide visited their primary care physician within a month of their death; and
  • Up to 67 percent of those who attempt suicide receive medical attention as a result

So, Reed says, “Primary care has enormous potential to prevent suicides and connect people to needed specialty care — especially when they collaborate or formally partner with behavioral healthcare providers.”

He further posited that integrating primary and behavioral care can help providers be more focused and effective when it comes to suicide prevention, because integrated healthcare providers are likely to have strong relationships with their communities. That means they can be advocates for treatment and support, a visible conduit for those who may be mired in negative social views and who are at risk. They can also communicate and collaborate with other care professionals, which should help identify individuals at high risk and allow for targeted intervention.

Suicide risk crosses gender, geographical boundaries

Another important thing to know is that suicide is no respecter of age, social status, gender, economic status or physical location. That’s why it is important for healthcare providers anywhere to be conversant about suicide risks and behaviors, so they can hopefully identify a situation and offer insight and support.

For instance, the CDC estimates that almost 20 percent of women will experience some type of depressive episode during or after pregnancy. And maternal suicide within a year of giving birth is emerging as a significant cause of maternal mortality, according to Susan Kendig, an attorney and nurse practitioner.

In a recent interview, Kendig said that the American Academy of Paediatrics is now recommending that pediatricians screen mothers for depressive symptoms at child visits at one, two, and four months. She also echoed Reed’s call for collaboration, saying “There needs to be some type of feedback loop back to the women's healthcare provider as well as her primary-care provider.” The woman is screened during that pediatric encounter, because the theory here is many women will attend the newborn visits. The next step would be having that feedback loop because if she does come to her women’s healthcare provider or her primary-care provider for a variety of reasons and they don't know that she has had a screen that indicates risks, there again may be a missed opportunity.

In the end, it often boils down to awareness and empathy. And in those moments, it also helps to share information about how to help right then:

  • If you or someone you know is in an emergency, call 911 immediately.
  • If you are in crisis or are experiencing difficult or suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273 TALK (8255)
  • If you’re uncomfortable talking on the phone, you can also text NAMI to 741-741to be connected to a free, trained crisis counselor on the Crisis Text Line.

It’s vital to remember that healthcare providers are not immune to the personal and societal issues and triggers that can lead to suicide. Reaching out for help is just as important to the healthcare community as it is to those who seek their help for their own physical, mental or emotional needs.