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What You Can Do to Prevent Suicide

The numbers are staggering: Suicide is the leading cause of death in Colorado for kids ages 10 to 24, and Colorado has the 9th highest suicide rate in the nation.

In 2017, youth suicide in our state reached an all-time-high. Almost a third of Colorado high school students said they consistently felt sad or hopeless. Seventeen percent said they had considered suicide, and 7% reported making at least one suicide attempt in the past year, according to the Office of Suicide Prevention’s 2017-2018 annual report. Those numbers tripled for youth who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer.

At Children’s Hospital Colorado, Pediatric Intensive Care Unit admits for patients who attempted suicide have jumped by 600 percent in the last decade.

“I know that the numbers are rising across the country, but I can also tell you that I’m hearing thoughts of suicide more often from my patients,” says Children’s Colorado psychologist Laura Anthony, PhD. “And I’m hearing about it from younger and younger kids every year.”

Why are youth suicide numbers increasing so much?

There isn’t an easy answer. One problem here in Colorado is getting treatment to the kids who need it: Experts estimate that only 22% of Colorado youth who have a mental illness with severe impairment are receiving care — a staggering gap between need and access. And youth today face tough challenges.

Social media use in youth

Social media has an enormous impact on the lives of youth ages 15 to 21. The American Psychological Association’s 2018 Stress in America survey paints a compelling picture of the current generation’s relationship to social media. While a slight majority, 55%, said it offers feelings of support, another 45% said social media makes them feel judged, and 38% reported feeling bad about themselves as a result of social media use.

Stressors for youth

The same issues that dominate the news cycle impact youth ages 15 to 21. The Stress in America survey documented that mass shootings, climate change, the separation and deportation of immigrant families, sexual harassment and assault and even the rise in suicide rates itself all cause significant stress for youth.

How you can help prevent youth suicide

As a primary care provider, you can help by asking your patients directly, “Are you thinking about suicide?” If so, assess for a plan. The more detailed the plan, the greater the risk for a suicide attempt. Also assess for warning signs of suicide. Connect your patient with appropriate treatment and ask parents to remove weapons and make sure their child won’t be left alone.

You can also implement Zero Suicide, a system-wide, organizational framework for safer suicide care in healthcare and behavioral healthcare systems.

Zero Suicide: A path to better mental health

Youth and adults considering suicide often fall through the cracks in a sometimes fragmented healthcare system. Zero Suicide is a systematic approach to quality improvement in these settings. Partners for Children’s Mental Health, or PCMH, an umbrella organization for mental health-related agencies and nonprofits, recently received a grant from the Colorado Attorney General’s Office to implement Zero Suicide in two ways:

  1. The Zero Suicide pediatric care pathway. PCMH aims to strengthen youth suicide prevention efforts across Colorado through awareness, education and implementation efforts among Children’s Colorado providers and with pediatric primary care and school systems. PCMH has partnered with national and local experts in conjunction with a dedicated project steering committee to develop a pediatric care pathway for primary care physicians. The clinical pathway provides an algorithm for suicide risk screening, determination of level of risk and guidance for development of a care plan for stabilization. PCMH is currently in the process of recruiting pediatric primary care sites who will pilot implementation of the Zero Suicide pediatric care pathway, with special emphasis on recruiting practices in rural settings.
  2. Zero Suicide Academy. PCMH seeks to train 10,000 youth-facing professionals utilizing the Zero Suicide model in order to scale the first youth-focused suicide prevention effort in our state. Children’s Colorado hosted a first-of-its-kind Zero Suicide Academy that provided training to 16 teams.

Our effort against youth suicide

At Children’s Colorado, we’ve declared a suicide “State of Urgency” in Colorado. To combat it, our team in the Pediatric Mental Health Institute is actively working to provide the highest quality mental health services possible to children, adolescents and their families.

We deliver evidence-based, family-focused and youth-centered services that make a difference. We’ve expanded our Emergency Department mental health services at our Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora and have just begun providing the same high-quality evaluations in the Emergency Department at our hospital in Colorado Springs.

In addition to our cutting-edge clinical services, we are dedicated to training the next generation of mental health professionals and conducting research to advance the field of child and adolescent mental health.

We welcome consultations and referrals. If your patient shows the warning signs of suicide, contact the Pediatric Mental Health Institute at 720-777-6200 or via OneCall at 720-777-3999.

For more information on Zero Suicide implementation, contact Shi Lynn Coleman, MPA, Operations Director, Partners for Children’s Mental Health: 720-777-0782, shi.coleman@childrenscolorado.org.

Helpful resources for youth suicide:

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