At the forefront of suicide prevention stands healthcare professionals such as Dr. Julie Goldstein Grumet, the Vice President of Suicide Prevention Strategy and Director of the Zero Suicide Institute at the Education Development Center. We sat down with Dr. Goldstein Grumet who addressed the concerning trend of rising suicide rates despite increased funding and awareness. She shed light on the challenges and opportunities in suicide prevention efforts, highlighting the transformative potential of the Zero Suicide framework. Read our conversation below as we explore the need for proactive intervention and the path toward a future where suicide is preventable, offering hope for individuals in crisis.
In 2021, over 48,000 people lost their lives to suicide making it the 11th leading cause of death. There were 1.70M attempts in the U.S. in 2021 and over 12 million adults report thinking about suicide annually. These numbers have been steadily rising despite increases in federal and private funding, research investments, and awareness raising. Polls suggest that 94% of Americans think that suicide is preventable, suggesting opportunities for earlier identification and intervention exist and perhaps a willingness to get more involved. So with a growing national commitment to suicide prevention, why are the numbers rising?
There are many hypotheses about increased suicidality – access to lethal means, escalating societal challenges, lack of connectedness – these are but a few of the many risk factors that exist and contribute to the rise in suicide. While more than half the individuals who die by suicide have seen a health care provider in the year before their death, many are never assessed for thoughts of suicide and therefore are not identified as being at risk. These are missed opportunities.
Recently, I went in to urgent care to address what I assumed was a broken finger. So why did they take my height, weight, and blood pressure? Because the assessment of these indicators would reveal underlying, more urgent health care issues and provide an opportunity for intervention. Had my blood pressure been through the roof, they would have pivoted from examining my finger and turned towards determining the cause of my high blood pressure, ultimately hoping to thwart an adverse event.
We should screen all individuals for risk of suicide when they enter the health care system in the same way that blood pressure is assessed. This is one way to find and support people who otherwise might not share their risk with anyone. It also normalizes and opens up conversations about suicide. The more conversations are routinized and destigmatized, the more likely people who are at risk will feel comfortable asking for help. And it teaches the general public how to ask. All health care workers need to feel comfortable, confident, and prepared to ask about suicide - no one apologizes for taking patient’s blood pressure.
Evidence-based screening tools such as the PHQ-9 and Columbia Suicide Severity Rating Scale exist and if someone reports increased risk for suicide, then all health care providers should have knowledge of basic interventions and a plan of action at the ready. This would include conducting a standardized risk assessment that asks the individual questions and determines their level of risk and helps to determine the right level of care. Providers should know how to develop a collaborative safety plan and talk about lethal means safety, ensuring that when risk is heightened, individuals safely store or have no access to lethal means. All providers should have a strong plan to refer someone to a mental health provider who has training in suicide specific interventions. And then follow up with caring contacts. These clinical interventions comprise the Zero Suicide framework, which is a quality improvement model that transforms how health care systems recognize and respond to suicide risk. You can learn more about Zero Suicide at ZeroSuicide.EDC.org.
We are honored to partner with Behavioral Health Tech for the 2023 Zero Suicide Institute Global Forum. Zero Suicide has been operationalized now by thousands of health care systems across the globe. We will kick things off in person in Phoenix with a panel discussion about the various policy and practice levers that need to be activated in order to reduce suicide. Additionally, the Forum will provide an opportunity to virtually bring together health care leaders, suicide prevention, and lived experience experts from the U.S., United Kingdom, Australia, and elsewhere to share innovations and adaptations, accelerate Zero Suicide implementation, and activate progress. Topics to be discussed include the role of leadership to create lasting and meaningful system-wide change; implementation journeys and pathways for various sectors and settings; data, evaluation, and outcomes; hope and recovery as guiding principles for people at risk for suicide; and restorative just culture as a foundation for Zero Suicide. This event will offer a great opportunity to better understand and advance suicide care whether you have been deeply involved in suicide prevention for decades or are just getting started.
To understand and address the rising number of suicide rates, we need to make changes—and the Zero Suicide Institute framework offers a strong path forward. At the upcoming Zero Suicide Institute Global Forum at the 2023 Behavioral Health Tech conference, we are bringing together a variety of experts to discuss system-wide transformation toward safer suicide care. Together, we have the ability to change the way we prevent suicide, so that it becomes a thing of the past and create a future full of hope and healing. Come join us at the Zero Suicide Institute Global Forum at the 2023 Behavioral Health Tech conference—register here.