Zero Suicide Conference Offers Suggestions for Reducing Death by Suicide
Death by suicide is a substantial public health problem, as more than 40,000 Americans commit suicide every year. Unfortunately, the efforts being made to reduce the risk of suicide- including commitment of patients with suicidal ideation- do not seem to be effective. Increased efforts must be made both to prevent inpatient suicide and to reduce the chances of suicide among individuals experiencing mental health issues who have not been committed to an inpatient facility.
The Cap Times recently reported on the Zero Suicide movement, which is developing a new approach to suicide prevention. The goal of the movement is to lower the number of suicides to zero. The founders of the initiative believe it is possible to prevent every suicide where patients are in the care of health providers. At a two-day conference, the theory behind zero suicide was explained and a plan was outlined for preventing both inpatient and outpatient suicides within healthcare systems.
The concern from one of the leaders of the Zero Suicide movement is the insufficient progress being made in controlling the growing number of deaths by suicide. As the rate of deaths by suicide climb, the responses of healthcare providers and healthcare facilities has been to make incremental change or to stay the course. This is clearly not having enough of an impact, as suicide rates continue to rise.
The goal of Zero Suicide is to make wholesale change in order to ensure no person at risk of suicide goes untreated or uncared for. The focus is also on providing more comprehensive treatment, rather than just addressing depression, and on enlisting the broader community in an effort to help people who may be considering death by suicide.
Community and health organizations can and should both play an important role in helping to reduce suicide, according to the theories of the Zero Suicide organization. The program was first started at a health system where the leader of Zero Suicide worked as a vice president. Suicide experts pushed back on the approach initially, arguing the goal of eliminating all suicides set the healthcare organization up for failure. Despite the criticisms on the part of suicide experts, the healthcare center overhauled its systems of patient feedback, made timely access to care a priority, and demanded a complete modification of cognitive behavior therapy methods across all departments.
It became the policy at the organization to ask the patient if they had visualized death by suicide and to describe the method. The family and patient were then told they should remove the means which would make it possible for the patient to suicide using this desired method. This became a surprisingly effective deterrent. With the efforts made by the health center, there was an 80 percent reduction in patient suicides over 10 years and there was one year in which no deaths by suicide happened.
The airline industry has a good handle on safe flying because it thinks about ways the system could fail and corrects the problem before it happens; the health care industry, on the other hand, does not have a black-box mentality; instead the healthcare industry evades, covers up, and spins every failure it has. As a consequence hospital errors are now the third leading cause of death in America. The health care industry does not want the public to know this fact.
Other health institutions may wish to consider following the lead of the Zero Suicide group and incorporating at least some of their techniques to try to bring down death rates.