The role of telehealth in suicide ideation

How Telehealth Can Help Manage and Treat Suicidal Ideation

Suicide is a leading cause of death in the United States, with 45,979 deaths attributed to it in 2020 alone. That equates to one person dying by suicide every 11 minutes. This staggering number does not take into account individuals who consider attempting suicide, a number estimated to be around 12.2 million people.

Because so many individuals experiencing mental health concerns that can increase risks for suicide – like depression, substance use disorder, and bipolar disorder – learning more about these conditions and working towards prevention should be a top priority.  

A recent study conducted by the Journal of Medical Internet Research shows progress in developing more effective treatments for suicide and suicidal ideation. Researchers found that individuals undergoing telehealth psychiatry were 4.3 times more likely to be in remission for suicidal ideation than those who did not receive care.

With these promising numbers in mind, it’s crucial to understand how clinicians can use these findings to create more effective resources and treatment options within their communities.  

Suicide Prevention in the United States 

Suicide affects people of almost all ages, races, and ethnicities. However, suicide rates do vary based on several factors, including:

  • Middle-aged men and women between the ages of 45-54
  • Those serving in combat
  • People living in a rural area
  • Individuals identifying as LGBTQ+
  • Disaster survivors
  • Attempt survivors

Additionally, specific populations and communities have higher rates of suicide, including people of American Indian or Alaskan Native heritage.

Great strides have been made in suicide prevention over the last several years. One of the most significant public health initiatives was the creation of the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. The new 988 dialing code was launched nationally to make it easier for people to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. More than 200 local suicide prevention centers are staffed 24/7 by counselors to help ensure quick access to help when someone is experiencing emotional distress or mental health concerns.

The Benefits of Telehealth

While the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline has been an invaluable resource for many, there’s no replacement for the individual relationship between clinicians and clients. Regardless of the type of therapy used, it’s been shown that interventions reduce suicidal outcomes across the board.

Many clinics and clinicians have evolved how they communicate and work with clients in recent years. The rise of telehealth following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has led to the mass adoption of this healthcare delivery method.

While telehealth use peaked in April 2020 when it accounted for 69% of doctor-patient visits, there are still many people who use it today. 67% of people surveyed by consumer researchers J.D. Power report having used telehealth at least once in 2022, and 57 percent say they prefer virtual visits to in-office appointments for mental health care.

There are many reasons why telehealth has been widely accepted and favored by patients and clinicians alike.

  • It improves access to care for patients who cannot easily make it to a clinic, especially for those living in rural areas.
  • It helps reduce unnecessary emergency room visits by allowing patients to connect with a clinician quickly and from home.
  • Patients who receive care virtually are less likely to cancel appointments and maintain their treatment schedule.
  • It speeds up wait times for specialists.

The Impact of Telehealth on Suicide Prevention

While telehealth has grown in prevalence across many medical specialties, its benefits in mental health care have been particularly significant.

A recent study in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR) tracked a group of 8,581 clients who completed a digital intake form on the Brightside Health platform. Of that number, 8,366 received telehealth care from the organization’s clinicians, and 215 used the platform only to track their symptoms.

The care the larger group received involved 12 weeks of treatment via video visits, at least one prescription of a psychiatric medication, and asynchronous messaging. After 12 weeks, the study found that patients who received telehealth care experienced reduced suicidal thoughts and were 4.3 times more likely to experience a remission in suicidal ideation.

Essential Takeaways

These positive outcomes demonstrate a promising treatment option for suicide prevention through telehealth. The results show that a telehealth platform equipped with clinical decision support is an effective intervention for the symptom of suicidal ideation. Clinicians utilizing telehealth as the delivery method for their care can have a meaningful impact on clients experiencing suicidal ideation.

If you haven’t explored using telehealth in your clinic or agency, now is a great time to do so. Here are some tips to help get you started.

  • Consider a platform with useful features like smart device integrations or clinical decision support. This can save clinicians time during pre and post-session prep and make it easier to track and make connections between clients’ medications and symptoms, even between appointments. 
  • Get familiar with your new platform before using it with clients. Familiarize yourself with the features in your telehealth solution before incorporating them into client sessions. Also be sure to check your lighting, Wi-Fi, and technical setup, and have a backup device ready in case you run into a glitch. Sessions can be run from computers, tablets, and cell phones, so keep an alternate device handy.
  • Reassure clients by setting guidelines for privacy and security in advance. If clients have never used telehealth before, it may feel unfamiliar. Clinicians should reassure clients by doing a brief overview of the platform’s security and privacy features beforehand, so they can be confident that the information they disclose will remain confidential.
  • Develop a safety plan for what happens if a client doesn’t come to their scheduled virtual appointment. Every clinic should have an established safety plan in place in case a client who has expressed suicidal ideation does not attend a scheduled appointment. Virtual appointments should be no different.
  • Streamline Your Teletherapy with a Behavioral Health EHR. A behavioral health EHR is designed to be accessed remotely, making it the perfect match for teletherapists working from home. It gathers the critical data required to ensure that you continue to provide evidence-based care while simplifying the behind-the-scenes work such as billing and documentation. You can quickly collect informed consent paperwork from your clients, complete each session’s charting, and have the bills routed to the right payers, all within a single easy-to-use platform. Consider using a secure, HIPAA-compliant teletherapy platform that is fully integrated with the rest of a behavioral health EHR. You won’t need to worry about choosing a third-party provider, wondering if it’s secure, or keeping multiple windows open on your computer or device. Choose a platform that is user-friendly and highly intuitive, allowing you to focus on providing the same high-quality outcomes-based care as you always have–regardless of your physical location.


While suicide is still among the top 10 causes of death in the United States, many clinicians are hopeful that telehealth can have a positive impact on treating patients with suicidal ideation. If you want to begin to use telehealth in your practice, here are some resources that can help. (They’re a great refresher for people who are already using telehealth, too!)

American Psychiatric Association Telepsychiatry Toolkit

Telehealth Resources Center

Telepsychology Best Practices 101

Information on building telehealth capacity for mental health clinics

HHS Upcoming Telehealth Policy Changes for 2023  

If you or someone you know may be in a mental health crisis or is considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by dialing 988. The Crisis Lifeline is accessible 24 hours a day in both English and Spanish. 

The demand for mental health treatment is forecasted to remain very high for the foreseeable future. If you’re stretched thin for resources as you try to accommodate more patients who need care, consider using a behavioral health-specific EHR to help manage your everyday workflows. Contact us today to learn how NextStep Solutions tools and technology have helped others in the behavioral health community thrive.

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