Kate Bergmann, Safety and Risk Coordinator, Southwest Health
Every day, suicide affects hundreds of lives across the globe. It robs families of loved ones, young ones of their futures, workplaces of their colleagues, and communities of their people.
Zero Suicide is the belief that no suicide is fated. Deaths by suicide are preventable for individuals under the care of a health or behavioral health provider. The Zero Suicide Initiative is a transformational framework for health systems that aspire to create safer suicide care. Southwest Health has committed to the Zero Suicide Initiative.
A review of studies analyzing this clinical scenario estimated that 45% of those dying by suicide saw their primary care physician the month before their death. Contrary to belief, those at risk for suicide are not disconnected from healthcare, but these individuals slip through gaps in the healthcare system.
To close this gap, we have to talk about suicide. Southwest Health screens individuals for suicide and depression to open the lines of communication with those at risk. Southwest Health collaborates with at-risk individuals in creating safety crisis plans. We also work to treat suicide directly and not only focus on mental health or addictions.
Southwest Health’s commitment to becoming a Highly Reliable Organization (HRO) supports the Zero Suicide Initiative. According to the Joint Commission, High Reliability means consistent excellence in quality and safety across all services maintained over long periods. To become an HRO, an organization must commit to moving toward zero harm, develop a safety culture, and continuously look for areas of learning and improvement.
Southwest Health has taken the HRO components to their Zero Suicide commitment. By engaging staff, we have learned, educated, and trained staff on recognizing, communicating with, and treating at-risk individuals and have also improved our processes and staff training. In the last year, Southwest Health has already made strides in closing the gaps individuals at risk for suicide fall through.
How can you help an individual at risk for suicide? The best way is to open the lines of communication by asking them, “Do you have plans for suicide?” Asking this question does not increase their risk of suicide. If they do have a plan, never leave them alone. Listen and talk to them and commit to finding them help. This may be through the local emergency department or by calling/texting 988 to reach the 24/7 suicide and crisis line. Your courage to ask and listen to the individual could save their life.