How Can Physicians Better Detect and Treat Those at Risk for Suicide?

Suicide is now the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., claiming more lives than traffic accidents and more than twice as many as homicides, according to a Feb. 24 alert issued by the Joint Commission.

The alert says that physicians and other health care providers often do not detect suicidal thoughts of patients who eventually die by suicide, even though most of these individuals receive health care services—usually for reasons unrelated to mental health—in the year prior to death.

The need for improved patient assessment, psychiatric assessment in particular, was identified by the Joint Commission, which recommends taking these three steps to detect and address suicide ideation:

  1. Review each patient’s personal and family medical history for suicide risk factors, screen all patients for suicide ideation, and review screening questionnaires before patients leave or are discharged.
  2. Take immediate action for patients in acute suicidal crisis, as well as conduct safety planning for all patients with suicide ideation.
  3. Manage evidence-based treatments and discharge plans that directly target suicidality, as well as participate in education on how to identify and respond to at-risk patients and document decisions regarding care and referral.

Read the alert.

Suicide Prevention Efforts in Pennsylvania

An April 2015 article released by the Pennsylvania Health News Service Project (PHNS), a collaboration between 20 Pennsylvania-based medical and specialty societies including the Pennsylvania Medical Society (PAMED) and the Pennsylvania Psychiatric Society (PaPS), addressed suicide warning signs and prevention strategies.

A state law that aims to prevent youth suicide (Act 71) took effect on Aug. 25, 2014. Its key provisions include:

  • Training for school personnel in grades 6-12
  • School districts to develop a prevention and awareness policy and educate parents on the policy
  • Pennsylvania Department of Education to work with at least one youth suicide prevention organization to develop a model policy, curriculum, and additional resources

Proposed legislation that would create a real-time, voluntary reporting system to identify available psychiatric beds across the Commonwealth has also been introduced. On Feb. 12, 2016, Sen. Camera (R-Beaver/Greene/Washington) Bartolotta circulated a co-sponsorship memo for the proposed bill. A tracking system would help ensure that patients receive the timely care they need and ease overcrowding in emergency departments. PAMED, PaPS, and the Pennsylvania College of Emergency Physicians all support this initiative.

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