Content Warning: Suicide // This article discusses suicide, a topic that may be upsetting or disturbing for some readers. Readers are encouraged to take the necessary steps for their emotional safety. Please seek professional help if you experience suicidal thoughts and/or tendencies.
Suicide represents a complex public health concern independent of ethnic or social boundaries. Although there are known vulnerable populations at greater risk for suicide like those members of the LGBTQ community, veterans, and Native Americans this is a problem with the potential to impact just about any community.
Maybe suicide prevention would be easier if we could drill down suicide risk to one or two direct causes. The reality is there are a lot of potential contributing factors to someone’s thoughts of suicide. Physical well-being, past trauma, social well-being, occupational stressors, financial challenges, and relationship problems are just a few possible drivers of suicide.
In the last 20 years, the suicide rate across the United States has increased by a frightening 32%. Tragically, one person dies of suicide in the U.S. every 11 minutes.
As a healthcare worker, you are in a prime position to maintain awareness and implement strategies in identifying patients who are potentially at risk for suicide and to intervene in a meaningful way. Using effective suicide prevention strategies and resources can equip healthcare workers to optimize patient safety and quite literally save a life.
Understand the Risk
Suicidal thoughts and attempts at suicide are often chronic challenges that will not likely resolve without goal-directed support and treatment. Without being able to rely on suicidal patients making their needs known easily, it is absolutely crucial for healthcare workers to be well-versed in understanding how to identify those patients who are at risk for suicide and how to help.
In looking back at those people who died by suicide, 45% had seen a primary care physician in the 30 days leading up to their death. Much like other health challenges that remain hidden in plain sight, there is no way, and quite frankly no benefit to pondering how many of those people could have been saved with proper awareness.
What these statistics reinforce is that suicide prevention strategies make a measurable and substantial difference. A course like Suicide Prevention for Healthcare Workers is a great example of how healthcare workers can familiarize themselves with suicide risk, proven screening strategies, and becoming adept at effective suicide prevention strategies at risk can help you develop the skills that can save a life—literally.
As you would imagine, there is no simple fix to offer those contemplating suicide. For anyone receiving treatment for their mental health challenges, there is often a specific treatment plan created to best fit the patient’s needs.
In carrying out the different parts of that treatment plan it’s really important for medical professionals to stick to the script. This means supporting the patient through recommended activities like one-on-one or group therapy.
Maybe part of the patient’s treatment plan includes a specific medication regimen. The administration of medication geared toward supporting mental health often requires strict adherence to the schedule to become most effective.
Psychiatric medications are very powerful drugs so following safe medications administration practices is especially important.
Reduce Means of Self-Harm
When working with patients who have been identified as being at risk for suicide, our next most important job is to assure they are going to remain safe.
Implementing a plan of care that includes suicide prevention strategies is going to allow for a focus on reducing the patient means of self-harm. This can be something as simple as making sure all harmful items are removed from the environment or preventing contact with someone who may escalate the patient’s negative feelings.
For many healthcare institutions, this includes the use of established safety protocols or a systematic approach to using evidence-based practice to maintain the patient’s safety. This can include patients staying inside the hospital as well as those who are using outpatient treatment programs.
All healthcare workers need to know that once the risk is identified, we’ve still got work to do. Once a patient is identified to be at risk for suicide, the healthcare team is responsible for keeping that patient safe.
Be a Source of Support
A sense of isolation or lack of support can sometimes be a contributing factor to why someone is feeling suicidal in the first place. The persistence of these feelings through the treatment and management of their mental health may be another opportunity for intervention.
An obvious source of this support could be from the patient’s loved ones which can certainly be leveraged throughout the patient’s recovery. A less obvious source of this support could be you as a healthcare professional. Sometimes, depending on your specialty, it may feel like once the patient leaves our walls our job is done. In the world of mental health, this is most certainly not true.
Unfortunately, about 70% of people who have attempted suicide never make it to a follow-up appointment after their discharge. With an endless supply of potential excuses for not following up, a little extra effort on our part may go a long way.
Follow-up contact can be a great way to offer this support. Making a quick phone call to check in, sending them a note to touch base, or maybe even making a house visit are some methods being used to show this support. A few minutes of our time may potentially make a huge difference.
Help Improve Patient Wellbeing
If you’re a member of the healthcare workforce, maintaining an awareness of suicide risk and prevention can potentially impact the life of someone you provide care for and their loved ones. Premiere Education’s helpful Suicide Prevention for Healthcare Workers can properly equip you to identify someone at risk and know exactly what you can do to help them.
Suicidality is not like an injury or disease process that stands out when you look at someone. Suicidal risk can be evasive and easily missed if you’re not prepared or paying attention. Those working in healthcare need to be able to pick up the smaller cues that can make a big difference.