Archive for May, 2016

Suicide Rate Surges to 30-Year High in United States

The suicide rate in the United States has reached its highest level since 1986 for nearly every age group in the country, according to statistics compiled recently by the National Center for Health Statistics.

The study examined the suicide rate for all age groups between 1999 and 2014, according to The New York Times. Nationwide, the suicide rate increased by 24 percent during this 15-year period. The study also compared the overall suicide rate nationwide dating even further back. In 2014, a total of 42,774 died from suicide or 13 per 10,000 people, the highest overall rate since 1986.

Some of the biggest increases in the suicide rate occurred among men and women 45 to 64 years old. The rate among women this age increased 63 percent between 1999 and 2014. Among men this age, the suicide rate rose 43 percent during the same time period.

Why did the suicide rate increase nationwide?

There are many reasons why experts believe more people are dying by suicide in the United States. One reason cited in The New York Times article concerns a possible link between suicide in middle-aged adults and concerns about work and personal finances. The Times cited a study conducted by Katherine Hempstead of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Other experts studying the issue believe that income inequality may be a factor. “This is part of the larger emerging pattern of evidence of the links between poverty, hopelessness and health,” said Robert D. Putnam, a professor of public policy at Harvard University, interviewed by The New York Times.

Those comments were echoed by Dr. Alex Crosby, an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who studied the association between the nation’s economy and its suicide rate dating back to the 1920s. “There was a consistent pattern,” Crosby said in an interview with The New York Times. “When the economy got worse, suicides went up, and when it got better, they went down.”

Other reasons why more people are dying by suicide

However, the statistics compiled by the National Center for Health Statistics did not include data about the income of the people who died by suicide. In addition, the theories linking suicide with economic downtowns cannot explain recent economic trends. Since 2010, the unemployment rate has steadily declined each year. As a result, some experts analyzing the issue have questioned whether a link exists between the economy and the nation’s suicide rate.

Instead, others have cited inadequate health care and failure to diagnose depression among adults as a possible explanation for suicides. Some mental health care professionals do not take patients’ warning signs of depression and suicide seriously, according to attorney Skip Simpson, who regularly works with families nationwide on negligence and medical malpractice cases involving suicide. As a result, people dealing with thoughts about suicide sometimes do not receive the necessary treatment they need to address such issues.

Disagreements Over the Best Method of Inpatient Care Provision

Providing mental health services is one of the most important roles a healthcare institution can fulfill, especially if a person is experiencing suicidal ideation. The right mental health care can save a life and can help to stabilize people with serious illnesses such as depression.  Unfortunately, not all healthcare providers are capable of offering appropriate services to people experiencing mental illness.

Part of the problem stems from disagreements over appropriate provision of care and the right methods to use for treating mental illness. WQAD recently reported, for example, on fights between hospitals over who is best capable of providing inpatient care and where the care should be provided. As hospitals and other healthcare service providers go back and forth on what help should be offered to patients, it is victims who often suffer because there is no clear plan for inpatient treatment which has been proven effective.

Disputes Over Providing Inpatient Care Can Harm Vulnerable Patients

WQAD reports a company called Strategic Behavior Health (SBH) is seeking to open a new mental health facility. SBH is already operating two psychiatric hospitals which treat patients using both inpatient and outpatient services, including a hospital called Peak View Behavioral Health. When SBH tried to open its third facility, the two largest local health systems objected.

The local health systems, UnityPoint Health Trinity and Genesis Health System, argued SBH would cherry-pick patients who could pay the most and would make it harder for existing facilities to provide appropriate mental healthcare services.  Local hospitals also believe inpatient care is outdated, while SBH agrees and asserts the benefits of inpatient treatment.

In addition to concerns about the type of care and the cherry-picking of patients, there are also worries about whether there are enough doctors in the local area to provide staffing for all of the healthcare facilities who treat patients with mental illness.  One advocacy group, for example, indicated the problem with providing healthcare services locally is not a shortage of psychiatric beds but is instead a shortage of qualified psychiatric professionals.

Unfortunately, this disagreement means an inpatient facility which could provide important help in mental health care and suicide prevention may not be built or there may be a delay in building.  If there is a shortage of qualified caregivers, it also means facilities providing mental health services could be understaffed or unqualified staff members could be hired. When there is an inadequate level of staffing and/or staff members are not properly trained, patients will suffer.

This is an especially big risk for patients who are receiving treatment for suicidal ideation because it will be necessary for these patients to be carefully monitored. If an inpatient facility does not provide the supervision and help they need, the facility could be held accountable for malpractice if a patient is seriously injured or dies while receiving care.