Silence is Deadly

 How a single conversation can prevent suicide 

Recent suicide statistics are staggering. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported that 11.5 million Americans have seriously considered suicide, 2.5 million attempt suicide each year and the suicide rate has risen to the highest level in almost three decades.

But unless you’ve been personally affected by suicide or—like Bloomington Meadows Hospital CEO Jean Scallon, you work in the field of suicide prevention—most people are unaware of this growing epidemic.

“People die of heart disease and cancer, and we talk about that,” Scallon says, “but when somebody dies by suicide we get quiet.”

Within that silence lies the heart of the problem. Scallon, who is the chair of the State of Indiana Suicide Prevention Advisory Council (ISPAC), as well as the chair of the Behavioral Health Council for the Indiana Hospital Association, is determined to break the silence and remove the stigma from discussing suicide. “The biggest thing that we can do to prevent suicide is to provide education and talk about it.”

The Joint Commission agrees. Prompted by the recent surge in suicide rates, The Joint Commission issued a Sentinel Event Alert on Feb. 24 to help prevent suicide in health care settings by assisting health care providers—including primary care, emergency and behavioral health clinicians—with screening, risk assessment, safety, treatment, discharge and follow-up care recommendations for at-risk individuals.

Scallon and other ISPAC members are spearheading efforts in Indiana to educate health care providers. With the second annual Take Action State of Indiana Suicide Prevention Conference on August 26, Hoosiers will have the opportunity to learn more about how they can help people who are considering suicide.

The conference will feature three national speakers: former NFL running back and mental health advocate Herschel Walker; Dr. Ursula Whiteside, clinical faculty member at the University of Washington Department of Psychiatry and developer of NowMattersNow.org, a public resource featuring people who have used evidence-based strategies to cope with suicidal thoughts; and Dr. Brian Mustanski, associate professor of Medical Social Sciences, Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and Psychology at Northwestern University and director of the Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing.

Breakout sessions will address lived experience, LGBTQ issues and postvention and prevention strategies. The speakers are sponsored by Bloomington Meadows Hospital and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the conference fees—currently only $25—are intentionally low thanks to money raised through ISPAC and the Monroe County Suicide Prevention Coalition and more than 25 sponsors, including Indiana University, Indiana Hospital Association and Anthem. If an interested individual can’t afford the fee, it will be waived.

On August 25, ISPAC will offer a pre-conference day of Assessing and Managing Suicide Risk (AMSR) training from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Spaces are limited and the fee will be $10, but the takeaways could be lifesaving. Participants in the AMSR training will learn how to have the difficult conversations that can help people find the treatment they need.

Scallon and her fellow ISPAC members hope to make suicide assessment part of the patient screening process in every place that touches lives in the state. “We ask people if they’ve had a flu shot, but we don’t ask them if they’ve ever thought about killing themselves,” Scallon notes. “That’s because we often don’t train our clinicians—or even our therapists, for that matter—in suicide assessment. We hope to change that.”