Making a difference in suicide care
Suicide is both a serious mental and public health concern, serving as a leading cause of death in the United States today. Understood as the intent to die by self-injury, suicide can result in lasting damage for individuals, families, and communities.
A growing public health concern
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that suicide led to over 48,000 deaths in 2021, with an estimated 2.6% increase in deaths by suicide in 2022. The CDC estimates that 12.3 million adults thought about suicide, 3.5 million had a plan, and 1.7 million attempted to kill themselves by suicide. It is important to note the differences in suicide risk by demographic. The CDC finds that some groups such as veterans, people living in rural areas, people of color, and tribal populations have a higher risk for suicide. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual+ (LGBTQIA+) individuals also display higher rates of suicidality when compared to their heterosexual and cisgender counterparts. This growing public health crisis is of great concern to mental health professionals around the world; Vita Health is committed to providing empirically-backed suicide care for our patients.
Risk factors and warning signs
When discussing suicide, it is important we first look at motivating factors and, in turn, what potentially motivates suicidal behavior. Dr. Craig Bryan, psychologist, professor, author, and Vita Health Clinical Advisor, often discusses how most patients report automatic negative reinforcers for suicide.
Essentially, people hope to stop pain and prevent negative feelings when attempting suicide. Dr. Bryan also discusses how emotion regulation (i.e., the ability to recognize and regulate emotional state) and cognitive flexibility (i.e., the ability to shift thinking to adapt) both play a role as suicide risk factors. After a triggering event, some people’s emotion regulation and cognitive flexibility may shift from stable to dynamic, potentially resulting in suicide attempt. Dr. Bryan suggests looking at baseline risk, determined by history and developmental vulnerabilities, as well as acute risk, moreso related to current stressors.
At the end of the day, suicide risk is neither linear nor fully predictable. It is a complex issue, which is why the clinicians at Vita take such care in individually assessing all patients on a case-by-case basis.
We know suicide is a serious and common mental health concern, which is why Vita Clinicians assess for suicide risk during each and every intake session and throughout treatment. In this process, we seek to understand baseline and acute risk, create safety plans, and employ expert clinical judgment. While not the whole answer, a key part of suicide risk assessment is to utilize validated and normalized screeners, such as the Columbia-Suicide Severity Rating Scale (C-SSRS) and Brief-Suicide Cognitions Scale (B-SCS). These assessments help to establish and consistently monitor suicide risk, while measuring change over time. Risk assessment continues by analyzing patient risk factors, suicidal desire, and resolved planning. Dr. Bryan describes resolved planning as including factors like availability of suicidal means, opportunity to attempt, specificity of planning, and intensity of ideation.
How to help
Naming and discussing suicide can be scary, but here is the good news - services and treatments are available.
If someone shares suicidal thoughts with you, don’t panic! While it is natural for you to worry about this person and their risk level, there are concrete steps you can take. Dr. Cheryl King, a leading expert on suicidality, psychologist, professor, author, and Vita Health Clinical Advisor, provides recommendations to first share your concern with this person, let them know you care about their well-being, and then reach out for professional help. This can involve calling 911, going to a hospital emergency room if there is an acute crisis, or making use of other mental health resources, such as Vita Health. Vita Health is proud to offer an evidence-based, proprietary suicide care intervention that may be the right fit for you and your specific treatment goals and needs.
Please note that Vita Health is not a crisis hotline. If you or someone you know is in crisis, you can now text or dial 988 to reach the 988 Lifeline, a national network of crisis centers providing 24/7, free and confidential mental health services for those experiencing crisis or suicidal ideation.
Suicide is certainly a mental and public health crisis, but Vita Health is fighting the fight. Our team of skilled and empathetic practitioners are passionate about providing world-class suicide care - during Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, and every month after.
This year, as we honor World Suicide Prevention Day on September 10th, we are reaffirming our commitment to providing research-informed and best-practice therapy to ensure our clients get the counseling services they deserve to prevent suicides.
To request an appointment with a Vita Health clinician, please click here.
*If you or someone you know is in crisis and in need of immediate mental health support, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling or texting 988. If you require immediate emergency support, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.
is a Licensed Associate Counselor in the state of New Jersey and Therapist at Vita Health. He earned his Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at the College of New Jersey, and is a proud member of and advocate for the LGBTQIA+ community.