Nearly 45,000 Americans die by suicide every year, at a rate that’s risen about 27 percent over the past 15 years. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death for people ages 5-34.
In the communities Mercy serves, 10 counties in Oklahoma, Missouri and Arkansas have some of the highest rates of suicide in those states. Unfortunately, that means the chances are very good that you have been impacted by the suicide or attempted suicide of a family member, friend or acquaintance.
Mercy co-workers are taking a stand to reduce the growing rate of suicide across their communities. They’ve joined mental health professionals across the country in the “Zero Suicide Initiative.” It’s not just an aspiration, but a commitment to use specific strategies and tools to address the signs and triggers of suicide.
Inspired by this idea, a team of behavioral health professionals at Mercy is creating a practical screening tool that primary care providers can use to spot early a patient’s risk for suicide, and provide support to prevent tragedy. At a higher level, Mercy’s larger growth strategy includes a multi-year focus on behavioral health and the health system is working to make more resources available to communities that need them most. Plans include early primary care intervention, Mercy Virtual programs, inpatient services and more.
“This is such an important topic, but the stigma of suicide made it difficult to discuss in the past,” said Dr. Kyle S. John, Medical Director, vMental Wellness Clinical Lead, Behavioral Health Specialty Council. “That is changing as people whose lives have been affected by suicide are willing to share their stories to raise greater awareness.”
Among those brave individuals are two Mercy co-workers: Lisa Picker, a medical assistant, and Dr. Beth Zimmer, a primary care physician. Both lost their sons to suicide about three years ago and have since become tireless advocates in the Zero Suicide effort. As part of their work, Dr. Zimmer has volunteered with Mercy’s Armed Forces in suicide prevention and Lisa has spoken on the topic at the United Nations.