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Campus Suicide Skyrockets – Are Colleges Liable For Student Deaths?

College students in a large classroom show signs of stress - student with hand on forehead looking down

A string of suicides at U.S. colleges and universities is renewing calls for more on-campus mental health services.

The situation is grim with some campuses experiencing multiple instances of students taking their own lives. Over the last six months, there have been four Worcester Polytechnical Institute, Massachusetts, student deaths attributed to suicide or apparent suicide, according to the media reports.

Similar fatalities have been recently reported on campuses in North Carolina, Missouri, California, and New Hampshire.

A recent study found that, nationwide, more than 14% of students said that they had seriously considered suicide in the past year. This is more than twice the rate in 2007.

People are calling on university and college officials to step up and offer the services students need to cope.

A Question of Campus Negligence

Under certain conditions, colleges and universities can be held liable for student suicides.

In many, but not all, cases, failing to provide students with reasonable mental health services and ignoring signs of suicide is an act of negligence.

Various courts have determined that colleges and universities have special relationships with their students that obligate them to fulfill a “duty of care” and act to prevent suicides.

Student suicide is a grave tragedy. When students die by suicide, it is important for their loved ones to consider a wrongful death lawsuit against the school and/or other liable parties.

In addition to securing answers and justice for yourself, a lawsuit could force a college or university to provide better services that help to prevent future suicides.

Calls for Improvement

The mental health crisis that has affected young people has attracted the attention of the federal government. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy called for action in a December statement.

“The challenges today’s generation of young people face are unprecedented and uniquely hard to navigate,” he said. “Our obligation to act is not just medical — it’s moral.

“We have an unprecedented opportunity as a country to rebuild in a way that refocuses our identity and common values, puts people first, and strengthens our connections to each other.”

COVID-19 Impact

Addressing the mental health crisis is critical. The rate of depression among college and university students is high.

In the 2020-21 academic year, 41% of students reported symptoms of depression and 34%  reported feeling burdened by anxiety, according to data from the 2021 Healthy Minds Study.

The COVID-19 pandemic has added extra weight to this large task. As many campuses have returned to in-person classes, administrators have worked to balance the need for pandemic-related restrictions, such as mask-wearing and quarantines and medical reports, with students’ deep need to socialize, make new friends, and gather in person.

On top of the pandemic, piling on even more stressors, are things like: a deep nationwide political divide, racism, climate change, social media, limited health care access, low wages, depressing economic outlook, and the strain of virtual learning in isolation.

Help For Families Experiencing Suicide

If you have lost a loved one to suicide, it is important that you find out who is liable for their death. You may be able to save others from a tragic end. People and entities that may be liable in wrongful death suicide lawsuits include:

  • Drug manufacturers
  • Health care provides, doctors, and therapists
  • Health care facilities (hospitals, wards, etc.)
  • Educational facilities that may not have provided services or turned a blind eye to bullying and other serious harassment of students
  • Negligent or malicious individuals

No amount of money can bring a loved one back, but by seeking compensation after a suicide, you may be able to help offset current and future financial losses to your family and save lives.

We Will Fight To Get You Answers and Justice

At The Law Offices of Skip Simpson, we have the experience and knowledge to get you the answers and justice you deserve after a loved one dies by suicide. With integrity and compassion, we investigate the circumstances of suicide and advise families on how to proceed during an extraordinarily difficult time.

As a nationally-recognized law firm, we help families across the United States who have lost loved ones due to suicide. If you lost a loved one to suicide, contact our law firm today to see how we can help you.

Study Reveals Significant Increase in Suicides Among Black Teens Since 2003

Depressed African American girl

Researchers with the Center for Suicide Prevention and Research have found an alarming trend related to youth suicides among black children, finding there has been a significant increase in suicides among teens ages 15 to 17 from 2003 to 2017.

Black teen girls are the most at risk

Dr. Arielle Sheftall, the lead author of the study which was published recently in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, said that the annual percentage increase was much higher among black girls, who were about twice as likely to die by suicide as black boys.

Dr. Christine Crawford, a psychiatrist at Boston Medical Center and the Codman Square Health Center in Dorchester, said that in many cases black girls weren’t getting any intervention for suicidal ideation until after they end up in the emergency room due to attempting suicide. Even though treatments and interventions exist, they often do not arrive in time to help the children who are struggling.

“It’s heartbreaking because we know there are treatment options to prevent this,” Crawford said. “One reason Black youngsters sometimes don’t go through therapy is that they’re reluctant to confide in a person ‘who doesn’t look like them,’ ” Crawford said.

Of the approximately 8,000 child psychiatrists in the U.S., only 1% are people of color.

The study found that black girls were more likely to experience a breakup and would die by suicide within 24 hours of an argument, whereas black boys were more likely to experience a legal problem or face criminal charges prior to ending their life.

Girls were most likely to die by overdosing and boys were most likely to use a firearm, according to the study. In some cases, the children contacted family members before they chose to end their life, Crawford said.

“They want people to know they’re in distress,” she said, “but there is still a part of them that wants to be found, that wants to live.”

Sheftall and her team discovered that younger children between the age of 5 and 11 were more likely to have experienced family or school problems. If they had a mental health diagnosis, it was often a diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, which has several comorbidities with other mental health illnesses that may have been undiagnosed.

An attorney can help you find answers

If you or anyone you know has lost a child to suicide, The Law Offices of Skip Simpson has the experience and knowledge to investigate the circumstances of suicide and advise families on how to proceed during an extraordinarily difficult time. Our law firm is based in Texas but we serve clients nationwide.

If you have suffered the loss of a loved one who ended their life by suicide, contact attorney Skip Simpson today.

Research Reveals Teens’ Thoughts & Plans Around Suicide

Silhouette of a depressed teenage girl sitting in a hallway

Recent research by the University of Washington and New York University has shown that more than one-third of high school students who reported engaging in some sort of suicidal behavior or ideation have gone on to attempt suicide.

The research was published in the Prevention Science journal and used the data from high schools across the country that had taken the National Youth Risk Behavior survey in 2015, 2017, or 2019. The researchers focused on the results of more than 7,500 high schoolers who stated they either had suicidal thoughts, a plan to end their life, or reported attempting suicide.

Examining the risk factors

The study showed that there were several risk factors, including bullying, depression, cigarette smoking, abuse of prescription drugs, or a history of sexual violence that increased the likelihood of a student moving from simple suicidal ideation into a suicide attempt.

Identifying and isolating the behaviors and risk factors is crucial to helping ensure that prevention measures are targeted at the right people, said the study’s lead author Meghan Romanelli, an assistant professor of social work at the University of Washington.

“Most adolescents who think about suicide don’t go on to attempt it, so in the analysis, we wanted to separate out adolescents who attempted suicide from those who thought about suicide but did not attempt in order to identify what factors may have put youth at higher risk,” Romanelli said. “These differences are important because it allows us to deploy prevention and intervention efforts that are targeted to the adolescent’s level of risk.”

What the study revealed

Of the roughly 7,500 students examined in the study, about 25 percent of them said they had considered suicide. About 38% said they had created a plan to end their life but did not follow through with suicide attempted, and 35% said they’d thought about suicide, created a plan for suicide, and then attempted suicide. In addition, 3% of respondents said they had a spur-of-the-moment suicide attempt without any prior thoughts or plans.

The study also noted higher risks of suicide attempts in certain populations. Hispanic and Latino youth were 1.6 times more likely to report a suicide attempt with thoughts and plans as opposed to having suicidal thoughts only, and four times as likely to report a suicide attempt with just ideation and no plan. Young men, in general, were more likely to report attempting suicide without any thoughts or plans. A feeling of hopelessness was common, among young people who thought about suicide or had attempted suicide with thoughts and plans

Funding for the study came from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the National Institute of Mental Health.

Legal help is available

Although the research can help people look for warning signs, too many people continue to lose loved ones to suicide completion. The Law Offices of Skip Simpson has the experience and knowledge to investigate the circumstances of suicide and advise families on how to proceed during an extraordinarily difficult time. Although our law firm is based in Texas, we serves clients nationwide. If you have suffered the loss of a loved one who ended their life by suicide, contact attorney Skip Simpson today.

Recognizing National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month

Suicide Prevention Awareness Month Vector Illustration. Good for greeting card, poster and banner

Every September, mental health advocates, prevention organizations, community members, peers, and survivors join together for National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month to help raise awareness of a problem that has led to more than 40,000 deaths last year in America.

Like many other conditions, suicidal ideation is relatively common but is rarely discussed due to an unfair stigma that surrounds the topic. One of the goals of National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month is to remove that stigma and enable people to ask if their friends and loved ones are experiencing suicidal ideation so they can discuss their feelings without judgment.

Research has shown that people who are thinking about suicide feel relieved when they are asked about it in a caring way. Findings suggest that acknowledging suicidal thoughts decreases a person’s risk of suicide, rather than increasing it.

Raising awareness

In addition, National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month is a time to inform the public about some of the facts about suicide in America: Here are some of the facts and figures that the National Alliance on Mental Health, has publicized on its website.

• 78% of all people who die by suicide are male.

• Although more women than men attempt suicide, men are nearly 4x more likely to die by suicide.

• Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among people ages 10 to 34 and the 10th leading cause of death overall in the U.S.

• The overall suicide rate in the U.S. has increased by 35% since 1999.

• 46% of people who die by suicide had a diagnosed mental health condition.

• While nearly half of individuals who die by suicide have a diagnosed mental health condition, research shows that 90% experienced symptoms.

• Lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are 4x more likely to attempt suicide than straight youth.

• Transgender adults are nearly 12x more likely to attempt suicide than the general population.

One of the best resources available for people experiencing suicidal ideations is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, (1-800-273-8255), a 24-hour confidential and anonymous service for individuals to discuss how they are feeling with trained call-takers. The Lifeline is working to focus on ways people can help those they care about.

According to the NSPL, one of the best ways to help is to simply be there and listen to someone speak about suicide without judgment. Their message during National Suicide Prevention Month is #BeThe1To as in: be the one to be there for someone in need.

Legal help is available

Despite all efforts at prevention, too many people continue to lose loved ones to suicide completion. The Law Offices of Skip Simpson has the experience and knowledge to investigate the circumstances of suicide and advise families on how to proceed during an extraordinarily difficult time. Although our law firm is based in Texas, we serve clients nationwide, so if you have suffered the loss of a loved one, contact attorney Skip Simpson today to learn more about your legal rights and options.

The Importance of Suicide Prevention Education

High school students and teenagers in the classroom at their high school

Although one might believe that teaching kids how to help prevent their classmates from attempting suicide might be a top priority, legislators have balked at the opportunity to mandate suicide prevention education in schools—even in some states where suicide is relatively rampant.

In July, the Wyoming Legislature declined to pass a proposed bill that would have made suicide prevention education a requirement for all students in public schools. The legislature made this decision even though Wyoming currently has the highest suicide rate in the nation at 29 suicides each year per 100,000 residents.

“We’ve run into challenges where legislators are reluctant to pass an unfunded mandate,” said Nicole Gibson, the senior director for state policy and grassroots advocacy at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

For some perspective, Wyoming’s suicide rate is more than double the national average, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The state’s legislature does not deny that suicide is a problem for the state, but they believe that local control of educational content is more important. As such, legislators refused to pass the mandate, and instead, they left the decision to individual school boards.

Whose responsibility is it?

Some indicated that suicide prevention should be the responsibility of churches and families, others feel it’s a concern for the state department of health and still, others think school is a fine place to teach these skills but were reluctant to increase the workload of teachers. Some critics have pointed out that Wyoming has a history of passing unfunded mandates in schools, pointing out a law passed in 2018 that required schools to teach computer science.

The purpose of suicide prevention education is to help students notice when signs of suicidal ideation are present in their classmates and help them understand how to talk and listen to them in an empathetic matter and to show them resources that suicidal people can turn to for help, such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255). The goal is to give the person feeling suicidal thoughts hope that better days are coming and life is worth living. CDC Research has shown that intervention can make a difference and lower suicide rates.

“Young people really go to their peers for so much and really trust their peers, maybe more so than adults, depending on their age,” said Gibson. “So making sure that [young people] are empowered to reach out for help when they notice those warning signs is so important. It’s a sign of strength to seek help, it’s a sign of strength to reach out.”

It doesn’t always work in every case, as suicide is quite complicated. It can occur for a vast number of reasons and no singular strategy of suicide prevention can guarantee success. However, it is clear that something needs to be done to bring the rate of suicide down in a state like Wyoming.

Currently, 12 states, including Texas and Vermont, require that education on suicide awareness and prevention be included in the curriculum, the foundation has been working to increase this number as part of its work.

See how an attorney can help you

The Law Offices of Skip Simpson has the experience and knowledge to investigate the circumstances of suicide and advise families on how to proceed during an extraordinarily difficult time. Although the law firm is based in Texas, it serves clients nationwide, so if you have suffered the loss of a loved one who was attending a school without any suicide prevention education, contact attorney Skip Simpson today.

Cannabis Use & Suicide in Young Adults

closeup of a teen lighting a marijuana cigarette

With the growing popularity of cannabis usage throughout America as a result of the legalization of cannabis in 18 states, further research has been conducted into some of the effects of marijuana usage on people’s mental health. One such study conducted by The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) showed that there may be an association between cannabis usage and suicidal ideation.

“Using nationally representative data, we found that trends in suicidal ideation, plan, and attempt varied by the pattern of cannabis use … among adults aged 18 to 34 years from 2008 to 2019, a time of marked increases in both cannabis use and suicidality,” the authors wrote in the study.

Key takeaways from the survey

Roughly 280,000 adults were surveyed for this study, which showed marked increases in suicidal ideation among adults who reported using cannabis on a daily basis across nearly all demographic groups and subgroups, high school students being the sole exception to the observed trend. Groups with particularly high increases included non-Hispanic Black participants and women. Even participants who said they didn’t use cannabis every day—or fewer than 300 days per year—”were more likely to have suicidal ideation and to plan or attempt suicide than those who did not use the drug at all,” the researchers found.

“From 2008 to 2019, suicidal ideation, plan, and attempt increased 40% to 60% over increases ascribed to cannabis use and a major depressive episode. Future research is needed to examine this increase in suicidality and to determine whether it is due to cannabis use or overlapping risk factors,” the research stated.

Cannabis use has increased over time

During the past decade, cannabis use among US adults has increased markedly. From 2008 to 2019, the number of adults with past-year cannabis use doubled from 22.6 million to 45.0 million. In parallel, the number of adults with cannabis use disorder (CUD) increased from 3.4 million to 4.1 million, and adults with daily or near-daily cannabis use (hereafter daily cannabis use) nearly tripled from 3.6 million to 9.8 million.

A  parallel increase in suicidality (ideation, plan, attempt, and death) was also noted among adults using cannabis. However, associations between cannabis use and suicidality among young adults are still poorly understood. While the study showed an association between suicidality and cannabis use, it did not show direct causation between them, leading researchers to suggest further study into the effects of cannabis.

“While we cannot establish that cannabis use caused the increased suicidality we observed in this study, these associations warrant further research, especially given the great burden of suicide on young adults,” said US National Institute on Drug Abuse Director Dr. Nora Volkow, the study’s senior author, in a statement.

Find out how a lawyer can help you

The Law Offices of Skip Simpson has the experience and knowledge to investigate the circumstances of a suicide and advise families on how to proceed during an extraordinarily difficult time. Although the law firm is based in Texas, it serves clients nationwide, so if you have suffered the loss of a loved one who was a heavy user of cannabis, contact attorney Skip Simpson today.

LGBTQ Youth Face Unique Mental Health Challenges

Youth holding a rainbow pride poster

The past year or so has been difficult for just about everyone, but it has been an especially challenging time for groups of people that were already facing unique mental health challenges, such as the LGBTQ community.

LGBTQ Youth Mental Health Survey

The Trevor Project 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health collected data on how the past year of living through the COVID-19 pandemic has had on LGBTQ youth. What they found provided a glimpse into the experiences and difficulties that they were going through and how many of them contemplated ending their lives as a result.

Here are some key findings:

  1. Researchers found that 42% of LGBTQ youth seriously contemplated killing themselves, including more than half of transgender and non-binary youths. Of those, 12% of white youth attempted suicide, 21% of Black youth, 21% of multiracial youth, 18% of Latinx youth, and 12% of Asian/Pacific Islander youth.
  2. Seventy percent of people surveyed said they categorized their mental health as “poor” during most if not all of the past year, and over 80% of LGBTQ youth surveyed stated that the pandemic had made their living situation more stressful, especially since only about one-third of those surveyed said that their household was LGBTQ supporting.
  3. Aside from the obvious increase in stress caused by a deadly disease that killed more than half a million people, the political situation during 2020 was also noted as a major source of stress in the LGBTQ community: 94% of respondents to the survey reported that recent politics had negatively impacted their mental health.
  4. For transgender and non-binary youths, the survey found that one of the largest factors that affected suicide attempts was if people in their household were willing to respect their pronouns. Those who did not have their pronouns respected were found to have attempted suicide at double the rate of those whose pronouns were respected.

The mission of The Trevor Project’s Research Department is to produce and use innovative research that brings new knowledge and clinical implications to the field of suicidology and LGBTQ youth mental health. The complete survey results along with the methodology used to conduct the survey can be found here.

How You Can Get the Help You Need

Perhaps one of the most disturbing findings in the survey was that 48% of respondents said that they would have wanted to get counseling from a mental health professional but could not gain access to one during the past year. In times of mental crisis and instability, access to appropriate mental health professionals can sometimes quite literally be the difference between life and death.

At the Law Offices of Skip Simpson, our team has the experience, expertise, and knowledge to investigate the circumstances of suicide and help families and loved ones get through what is an extraordinarily difficult time. We serve clients nationwide, so if you have a loved one who was part of the LGBTQ community who died by suicide after receiving inadequate mental health care or harassment for their lifestyle choice, contact attorney Skip Simpson today.

Military Still Falls Short Treating War-Related Stress

Despite some improvements, service members remain at elevated risk of dying by suicide

Texas suicide lawyerA new study released February 18 shows that the U.S. military is struggling to provide adequate care for active-duty troops suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and clinical depression.

Conducted by RAND Corp., this study surveyed 40,000 cases, making it the largest ever of its kind. The results are chilling: Only a third of soldiers with PTSD and less than one in four soldiers with clinical depression receive even the minimum number of therapy sessions after their diagnosis.

 

According to military officials, the culprit is a lack of personnel. Commenting on the study, Brad Carson, the acting principal deputy undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, said, “We just don’t have enough mental health professionals to meet the demand.”

In addition, many service members are unaware of the mental health services available to them – or unwilling to seek help because of the persistent stigma associated with mental health. While the Department of Defense is working to reduce this stigma, a separate study also conducted by RAND Corp. found that some of their efforts may not be as effective as they could be. In particular, some of those stigma-reducing programs do not target service members who are already seeking mental health treatment.

Military treatment in vulnerable periods above national average

The study did find that the military is taking positive steps to treat at-risk service members during one of their most vulnerable times: immediately after discharging from inpatient facilities. During the first year after being released from hospital care, soldiers die by suicide at a rate of 264 per 100,000, more than 20 times above the national average.

According to the study, 86 percent of those with PTSD or depression were seen by a mental health specialist within seven days after discharging from a hospital, and that figure increased to 95 percent within the first 30 days. In this particular area, the military medical system is well ahead of the civilian system.

In part, the military’s success in this field is owed to a 2014 internal Army medical command memorandum, cited by the RAND Corp. study, that stated soldiers need to be seen within 72 hours of discharging from a hospital. Commanders were instructed to require soldiers to attend a make-up session if one is missed. Moreover, the memorandum established a policy of not discharging soldiers during weekends and holidays to avoid issues with losing track of follow-up care.

Even with more mental health professionals, the standard of care remains low

Another seemingly positive element is that the military has increased its staff of mental health professionals by 42 percent over the last seven years – 9,295 today compared to 6,546 in 2009.

However, increasing the number of staff has not necessarily improved the level of care. Many of the new mental health professionals lack experience; meanwhile, many experienced professionals have been forced into early retirement.

Suicide prevention attorney Skip Simpson, a 20-year military veteran, knows that many mental health professionals lack the necessary training to help people at risk of dying by suicide. This influx of inexperienced professionals means that the military medical system is even less likely to be able to recognize the warning signs of suicide and effectively intervene, leaving military personnel at elevated risk.

The study results show that, while the military is taking fairly effective steps to help soldiers when they are most imminently vulnerable to suicide, it is still struggling to provide the sort of early intervention and care that can prevent deaths from suicide in the long run.

Hospital Records Can be Invaluable Evidence After Inpatient Suicide

Texas suicide lawyerMental health facilities have obligations to psychiatric patients to keep them safe, particularly when patients are on suicide watch and there is a risk of death by suicide.  One of the duties in most facilities is simply to monitor patients who are at great risk to ensure they do not try to self-harm.  If a hospital has failed in any of its obligations to patients and inpatient suicide occurs as a result of this failure, it is possible to take legal action against the facility.

Hospitals can be held responsible for negligence in policies which lead to patients dying by suicide. If staff members fail to fulfill the obligations imposed upon them by their jobs, mental health facilities can also be held accountable due to these on-duty errors or the negligence of staff members in fulfilling work tasks.

Hospital records and other internal evidence from mental health facilities can prove invaluable in determining if the facility has lived up to its obligations or not.  An experienced inpatient suicide lawyer can assist family members of patients who died by suicide in obtaining necessary records to help prove negligence.

Video Surveillance Footage Helps to Show Staff Failure in Mental Health Facility

Naples News reported on one tragic case which illustrates how information a hospital collects can be used to help prove negligence after inpatient suicide occurs.  The case involved the suicide of a 51-year-old man who was in a psychiatric inpatient hospital. The man had been admitted because of feelings of paranoia, hopelessness, and depression. His admissions paperwork indicated he had been having suicidal thoughts.

During the time he was in the 103-bed facility, the 51-year-old man was quiet and didn’t participate in any activities or therapy sessions. Two days prior to his death, he asked to talk to a social worker and requested forms for a living will. The social worker didn’t ask the reason for this request, and did not report the request to anyone.   The patient’s doctor indicates he would have put the patient on immediate suicide watch if he had been aware a request for a living will was made.

Even though the patient was not on suicide watch, he was still supposed to be checked on every 15-minutes.  Unfortunately, though written paperwork indicated these checks had happened, surveillance footage from the hospital shows there were two checks missed in a row. Neither a 9:15 and a 9:30 check happened. By 9:45, when the 51-year-old patient was finally checked on, the patient had gone into the bathroom and hanged himself with a tied-up hospital gown.

There were numerous situations in this case where the hospital facility dropped the ball, from the social worker not reporting the living will to the 15-minute checks not being made. The surveillance evidence and the patient records including the living will help to show how the hospital facility fell short of its obligations.  A suicide lawyer can help family members to obtain this type of evidence to prove a mental health facility should be held accountable for lapses.

 

Inpatient Suicides Considered Most Preventable and Avoidable

Texas suicide lawyerApproximately six percent of deaths by suicide in the United States occur when patients are under care in a psychiatric hospital, a mental health facility, or a mental health unit of a hospital.  According to Psychiatric Times: “Inpatient suicides are viewed as the most avoidable and preventable because they occur in close proximity to staff.”

 

Understanding when and how these suicides occur is key to successful prevention of death by suicide. When psychiatric health professionals fail in effective monitoring and prevention, the facility where the patient was receiving treatment may be held accountable.

Understanding Death by Suicide in an Inpatient Setting

Psychiatric nurses in an inpatient facility generally experience a completed suicide every 2.5 years on average, although these suicides are widely considered the most preventable due to staff-member control of the environment and due to the greater control exercised over inpatients versus outpatients.  Why? See the end of this blog.

The greatest danger to patients of death by suicide occurs in unsupervised areas, and patients are most at risk at night or during hand-offs when one staff member leaves a shift and care transfers to another healthcare worker.  However, patients may die by suicide at any time when staff members fail to fulfill obligations to keep them safe.

The majority of deaths by suicide in psychiatric hospitals occur because of hanging, and 75 percent of the deaths occur in closets, bedrooms, or bathrooms of patient rooms—those hidden areas all nurses and hospital techs know about.  While suicide watch protocols are aimed at preventing these fatalities, they are failing. Why? The observation period is too long.  It takes approximately two minutes of hanging to have irreversible brain damage and five to six more minutes to die—either on the unit or on a respirator a few days later in another hospital where the patient has been transferred due to the emergency.   When the suicide watch protocol involves checking on the patient every 15 minutes (the time interval often selected), this allows sufficient time for the patient to successfully complete a suicide. More frequent monitoring of patients at risk for suicide is called for-usually one to one (where a staff member is within arm’s length) or line of sight monitoring.   In one study of patients who died by suicide in an inpatient facility, 51 percent of patients were being monitored on a 15-minute suicide observation protocol.

Inpatient facilities can also eliminate threats to patients by reducing patient access to tools and conditions which could facilitate death by suicide. For example, grab bars in showers and plumbing fixtures can be used by patients in an attempt to die by suicide.  Adding plates to grab bars and putting safeguards around plumbing fixtures, like stainless steel boxes, can help to eliminate environmental risks.

Staff members must also be able to recognize when patients are at the greatest danger of death by suicide.  Studies suggest in 60 percent of suicides among inpatients, the patient’s level of risk was not adequately determined by psychiatric professionals or the appropriate precautions were not taken based on the risk level identified.  Professional psychiatric staff must be accurate in diagnosing the level of suicide risk posed by each patient in an inpatient facility, and appropriate protocols must be followed to protect patients from harm based on their specific risk levels.

Skip Simpson says: “In a nut shell hospitals must stop providing suicidal patients with the means, time and opportunity to kill themselves. Patient safety is not the goal for these hospitals; it is profits. Simple patient safety rules will stop the suicides if greed is put to the side.”