Zero Suicide in Health-Care Settings is the Goal

Oct 2015

Texas suicide lawyerIn 2012, the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention and the Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC) came together to develop a plan called “Zero Suicide.”

Zero Suicide was outlined in the 2012 National Strategy for Suicide Prevention, and the website for Zero Suicide indicates the “foundational belief” of the project is: “that suicide deaths for individuals under care within health and behavioral health systems are preventable.” Essentially, this means individuals should not be falling through the cracks and the healthcare system should take a systematic approach to patient care to prevent death by suicide – all of them.

Mental health care providers play a key role in Zero Suicide, because as National Council magazine indicates: “serious mental illnesses and addictions elevate suicide risk by 6-12 times over the general population’s.”

When people with mental health issues seek treatment, care providers must recognize the dangers, be alert to signs of suicidal ideation, and take necessary steps to offer services designed to eliminate risk. If a mental health care provider fails in obligations and a patient dies by suicide, the care provider may be held legally liable for mental health malpractice for deciding not to follow the standard of care which contributed directly to the patient’s attempted suicide and/or death.

Zero Suicide Can Be Effective at Reducing Suicide Risks

States throughout the country are embracing the systematic approach of Zero Suicide, including New York. New York’s view is when suicide deaths occur, the fatalities are because of systemic failures- which are precisely the type of failures Zero Suicide is intended to stop from occurring. As part of a Suicide Prevention Initiative in NY, a plan has been put in place to improve the quality of behavioral healthcare and put an end to these systemic failures.

New York is putting a systems approach into place in higher risk communities and among higher risk demographic groups. Steps being taken include:

  • Improving inpatient and outpatient care to reduce or eliminate suicide deaths in state-operated psychiatric service systems.
  • Involving multiple parties and institutions, including local county leadership, residential care providers, inpatient and outpatient care providers, mental health professionals, and substance use care providers, in developing a comprehensive care and support network.
  • Embedding suicide care in the major organizations serving youth across the state.
  • Raising levels of staff support and surveying staff members in mental health facilities on their readiness to provide effective suicide prevention care.
  • Assisting organizations in creating effective management practices aimed at achieving Zero Suicides through team-based care.

In Zero Suicide approaches, suicide protocols should be incorporated within policies and procedures of healthcare facilities, and the suicide risk of all patients should be assessed. Suicide should be treated not as a symptom of a mental health disorder or substance abuse disorder but instead as a condition for which a patient receives direct treatment.

When a suicide risk is identified in patients, a safety plan should be developed and regularly reviewed to reduce the risk of death by suicide and to ensure patients are provided with necessary support.

Above all, clinical staff must be appropriately trained, must follow up with patients, and must ensure they are providing the level of care patients need to reduce risks.

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