Healthcare providers in the Ozarks prioritizing suicide prevention

Published: Sep. 23, 2022 at 9:34 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - Missouri and Arkansas have some of the highest suicide rates in the country. The Centers for Disease Control ranks both states in the Top 15.

Healthcare providers in the Ozarks are prioritizing prevention more than ever. More than 40,000 Mercy co-workers completed a Zero Suicide Initiative education course this year. According to Mercy, it wasn’t done because of outside demands or requirements.

“Suicide is often what some might consider sort of a silent killer because people will suffer in silence in many cases and not tell their health care provider,” said Dr. David Barbe, head of primary care for Mercy Springfield. “We have seen a significant increase in thoughts, especially since the pandemic.”

Dr. Barbe says patients answering “yes” they have suicidal thoughts is higher than he’s ever seen.

”If somebody shows up in a primary care office with headaches or stomach aches or they had a minor do you know that those symptoms are just what they appear on the surface and not something associated with depression? Or a suicide attempt,” said Dr. Kyle John, V.P. For Behavioral Health, Mercy.

Mercy says it now screens for suicidal idealization in the emergency room, hospital admission, and most aggressively in primary care settings.

”It has really increased awareness not only of the current epidemic in suicides but also the importance of primary care physicians to screen for that,” said Barbe. “We watch for changes in attitude, changes in behavior, changes in mood, and we look for changes in their lifestyle.”

The patients identified at a higher risk for suicide will be treated using a safety plan.

”If you show up at the doctor with a sore throat and they diagnose you with strep throat, but you don’t get the antibiotic, well, that was kind of the point of showing up,” said Dr. John. “When we identify patients who are at higher risk for suicide, we’re using a standardized safety plan as a treatment.”

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