Suicide Prevention and Resources

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. According to data compiled by Mental Health America (MHA), a nonprofit mental health advocacy organization, suicidal ideation has been growing rapidly since the start of the pandemic. Here’s what clinicians need to know about suicide prevention in the complex modern world.

Facts and Figures

MHA began its online screening program in 2014, which included tracking suicide and suicide ideation. Their 2020 data reflects more thoughts of self-harm or suicide than ever before. Over 178,000 people reported frequent thoughts of suicide, with 37% of those who took the anxiety screening reporting thoughts of suicide on at least half the days in September 2020 (the last month of the study). Young people who identify as LGBTQ+, as well as Native Americans of all ages and orientations, are at the highest risk for suicide. Nonetheless, suicidal ideation is growing across all demographics, so all behavioral health providers should be on the lookout for signs.

Know the Risk Factors

Risk factors are characteristics that make it more likely that someone will consider, attempt, or die by suicide. They can’t cause or predict a suicide attempt, but they’re important to be aware of, especially if you have concerns:

  • Lack of healthcare, especially access to mental health and substance abuse treatment
  • Mental disorders, particularly mood disorders, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, and certain personality disorders
  • Alcohol and other substance use disorders
  • Hopelessness, feelings of isolation or a lack of social support
  • Impulsive and/or aggressive tendencies
  • History of trauma or abuse
  • Major physical illnesses
  • Loss of relationship(s), or a job or financial loss
  • Family history of suicide or previous suicide attempt(s)
  • Local clusters of suicide or exposure to others who have died by suicide (in real life or via the media and internet)

How a Behavioral Health EHR Can Help

For clinicians, a behavioral health EHR system can be a valuable tool in the quest to identify those who may be prone to suicidal behavior. A robust EHR system seamlessly combines all of your notes and data on each client, allowing you to run targeted reports. This can help you track client behaviors over time, allowing you to look for patterns in people that may be more prone to suicide. You can also use this data to help develop and tweak customized treatment plans, determining the exact mix of individual and group therapy, along with the specific therapeutic techniques that can best help each at-risk client.

Another major advantage of an EHR system is its portability. If you are working from home or in the field, you can use the platform to meet with clients remotely, and document and bill for each session as you go. With most of the back-end work automated, you can dedicate more of your time and energy to assessing and treating your clients, including those who may be at higher risk for suicide.

Suicide Prevention Resources

If you have clients who may be at risk for suicide, but do not currently meet the criteria in your state for involuntary commitment, providing them with suicide prevention resources could help save a life. Here a few resources to share with your clients.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides a comprehensive set of educational tools and services for those who have thoughts of suicide, as well as resources for loved ones who are trying to help. Anyone can call the free, confidential crisis hotline at  1-800-273-TALK (8255) for assistance. Calls are taken 24 hours a day, and routed to the closest of more than 180 crisis centers, ensuring that callers receive the best possible support including access to local resources.

For those who are not in immediate crisis, the website is well worth perusing. From risk factors and action plans for providing concrete help to stories of successful recovery, the site can help support people in all stages of suicidal ideation and recovery.

Crisis Text Line

Not everyone is comfortable talking on the phone, especially when they are in crisis. Those who prefer texting can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741. A trained volunteer crisis counselor will return the text, with the goal of calming the caller and getting him or her to a safe frame of mind. The counselor may then provide a referral to local resources for follow up. Depending on the person’s needs, these resources could include a local clinician, peer support groups, or even a recommendation to visit a local psychiatric hospital for evaluation. Suicide prevention is part of what the Crisis Text Line does, but anyone who is feeling painful emotions is encouraged to text.

The Trevor Project

While staffers at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the Crisis Text Line are certainly familiar with LGBTQ+ issues, some people may feel more comfortable in a dedicated LGBTQ+ community. The Trevor Project focuses on crisis intervention for LGBTQ+ youth under the age of 25. Options include talk, text, or online chat. There is also a social networking site, as well as a support center with a variety of resources.

Suicide and suicide ideation were already considerable concerns in our society, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only made it worse. All behavioral health services providers should be alert to possible suicidal ideation among their clients. A behavioral health EHR can help you track behaviors and customize treatment plans, while suicide prevention resources can provide potentially lifesaving resources to your at-risk clients. Know the signs, share resources, and get involved.


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