Save-a-Life: Suicide Assessment

April 1, 2019

Dr. Bob McKinney, assistant professor of social work for the College of Community Health Sciences, warned residents, faculty and staff attending the College’s March Grand Rounds lecture that suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US with an average of 105 suicides happening daily in America.

There is no patient that is too healthy to be asked about suicidal thought and risk, said McKinney.

A special guest speaker and suicide attempt survivor shared his experience leading up to attempting to take his life and the recovery process afterward. He said he sought help from medical professionals in Tuscaloosa prior to shooting himself in the head.

“They treated me like a child,” the speaker said. He said he walked away discouraged and dismissed. McKinney said roughly half of suicide completers had seen their primary care physician within a month of suicide.

Paige Parish, a licensed social worker and coordinator of the College’s ACTION program, an alternative emergency response program, provided tools and suggestions to audience members on how to take responsibility and properly screen patients. She said doctors are not the sole person responsible for keeping patients from suicide, but they are responsible for assessment and documentation of risk and protective factors.

The Patient Health Intake Questionnaire contains questions that evaluate a patient’s mental well-being. Patients who answer anything other than zero on question nine, which asks patients if they have had thoughts that they would be better off dead, or of hurting themselves in some way, should be immediately assessed for suicide risk.

“It won’t happen immediately,” Parish said, emphasizing that often suicide prevention is based in crisis intervention. “Thoughts and beliefs and behavioral change are baby steps.”