Our Opinion: Suicide prevention warrants more attention in NEPA

November 15th, 2015 11:45 pm

Would it be a good idea …

… for health care leaders in our region to embrace the Zero Suicide Initiative?

Fifty-five people in Luzerne County took their own lives in 2014, according to data from the county coroner’s office. That toll didn’t include another 63 fatalities last year from accidental drug overdoes, some of which arguably might be rooted in the same underlying trouble: an overwhelming sense of desperation.

The tragic trend isn’t unique to our region.

Nationally, a rising suicide rate continues to bedevil experts such as the immediate past director of the National Institute of Mental Health, Dr. Thomas Insel, according to a Nov. 2 report by National Public Radio. “While the homicide rate in the U.S. has dropped 50 percent since the early 1990s, the suicide rate is higher than it was a decade ago,” the report stated.

“That to me is unacceptable,” Insel told the radio interviewer.

The Henry Ford Health System in Detroit devised a prevention strategy nearly 15 years ago that has showed dramatic results in its patients. Other systems have since copied it. The premise: Health care providers – including doctors, nurses and mental health caregivers – are uniquely positioned to identify people with clinical depression, guide them toward treatment and possibly prevent suicides.

The Commonwealth Medical College scheduled a workshop in September that focused on the Zero Suicide approach. Outside of that event in Scranton, however, we haven’t heard much about the program. (You can read more about it online at sites such as zerosuicide.sprc.org.)

That’s not to imply local organizations are not keenly focused on mental health matters; in fact, many are. Luzerne County Community College, for instance, last month scheduled a “train the trainer session” on suicide prevention. And the Family Service Association of Northeastern Pennsylvania is set to hold a conference on the same topic Friday in Wilkes-Barre.

Can Zero Suicide programs improve communication locally within sometimes disjointed health systems and ensure more people get adequate treatment? Or, is it unfair to put the onus on physicians and clinics?

Are area residents adequately made aware of the warning signs of depression, and would they intervene on behalf of a family member or acquaintance? Do they know Help Line’s caseworkers are available around the clock by calling either 1-888-829-1341 or 2-1-1? If you or someone you know was experiencing an emotional crisis today, would you reach out for assistance?

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