As Behavioral Health Shortage Becomes More Acute, Joint Commission Issues Provider Alert For Suicidal Patients

Noting that suicide is now the 10th leading cause of death in America, The Joint Commission this week issued an alert to healthcare providers urging that they improve processes to identify those at risk who come through their doors.

The alert reads: “At the point of care, providers often do not detect the suicidal thoughts (also known as suicide ideation) of individuals (including children and adolescents) who eventually die by suicide, even though most of them receive health care services in the year prior to death, usually for reasons unrelated to suicide or mental health.”

The Joint Commission then goes into detail to identify risk factors for suicidal patients, including more apparent signs such as emotional distress and evidence of self-harm as well as more subtle markers such as social isolation and a recent release from an inpatient psychiatric facility. The commission adds that providers should closely analyze a patient’s medical record and screen all patients for signs of suicide ideation by using a brief, standardized, evidence-based screening tool.

Then, stay with those at risk. Offer to contact an outpatient center after discharge. Do not leave acutely suicidal patients alone, observing them in a face-to-face setting. Keep the National Suicide Prevention Hotline number near, and conduct safety planning with colleagues.

The alert comes after much concern nationwide over the shortage of behavioral health providers. In Texas alone, the feds list more than 350 Mental Health Provider Shortage Areas (MHPSAs) throughout the state. That means there are more than 30,000 people without access to a psychiatrist. The state recently launched a loan remittance program to spur new graduates to provide care in those areas. But the Joint Commission’s alert is another reminder that patients needing behavioral health will be seeking care in settings like emergency rooms and outpatient centers.