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Suicide Prevention Awareness Month: HCA Healthcare shares how to help in 2021

Woman wearing face mask looking out rainy window

This September, as we observe Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, we’re elevating the incredible work of HCA Healthcare’s national partners and our Behavioral Health Services colleagues who are leading the conversation on suicide prevention – ranging from education to support to advocacy. Plus, learn about how you can bring awareness to this important topic and help those who are struggling…

The statistics are staggering. A 2017 National Center for Health Statistics data brief showed suicide rates in the United States climbed 33% in the past decade. In 2019, more than 47,500 people died by suicide – that’s roughly one death every 11 minutes.

Since then, there has been increasing concern about the pandemic’s impact on mental health and suicide rates. Stress and anxiousness about contracting COVID-19, lockdowns, job losses, lack of in-person schooling, as well grief experienced from the loss of loved ones from the virus – are all thought to have taken a toll on mental health.

Logo with National Suicide Prevention Lifeline phone number

If you or someone you know are in a crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741. Veterans and their loved ones can connect with the Veterans Crisis Line by calling 1-800-273-8255 and pressing 1 or texting 838255.

For years, suicide has been the U.S.’ 10th leading cause of death, but preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that it has fallen to number 11 on the list. The data, published in JAMA Network last March, indicates that suicide deaths decreased by 5.6% in 2020.

While more data is needed to fully understand this finding, some experts speculate that an increase in telehealth services, as well as an overall sense of solidarity at the beginning of the pandemic, may explain the decline. However, they add that it may be a while before we know the full impact of the pandemic on mental health.

Man wearing suit and tie. Headshot of Dr. Frank Drummond.
Dr. Frank Drummond, HCA Healthcare’s medical director of behavioral health services

“The reported decrease in suicide deaths is hopeful as it reflects that while society has dealt with tremendous strains throughout the past 18 months, we have also increased our commitment to providing mental health outreach, resources and care,” said Dr. Frank Drummond, HCA Healthcare’s medical director of behavioral health services. “We have yet to realize the long-term and ripple effects of the pandemic and we know that the nation’s mental health crisis is far from over. So while there’s reason to be cautiously optimistic, it’s as important as ever to talk about suicide – and to know how to help loved ones who may be struggling.”

Pandemic’s impact on mental health

HCA Healthcare’s Behavioral Health Services line includes 64 inpatient behavioral health programs across the nation in addition to virtual resources. Our board-certified psychiatrists and interdisciplinary teams work with hundreds of thousands of patients every year and use the knowledge and data gained to make advances in caring for those with mental illness.

“At HCA Healthcare, we offer high-quality, compassionate care, and work with our community partners to help reduce the stigma of receiving behavioral health support,” said Dr. Drummond. “Suicide is a serious public health issue, and should be recognized as such.”

While the pandemic may not have an immediate impact on suicide rates, experts believe that it is highly possible that there will be increases in suicide rates in the long-run.

Headshot of Dr. Krithika Iyer.
Dr. Krithika Iyer, faculty and staff physician at HCA Healthcare affiliate University Hospital and Medical Center in Tamarac, Florida.

“Elderly persons are more likely to live alone, be socially isolated during COVID-19 and have physical health problems, which are risk factors for suicide,” said Dr. Krithika Iyer, faculty and staff physician at HCA Healthcare affiliate University Hospital and Medical Center in Tamarac, Florida. “Children and health professionals may also be populations at risk.”

Studies done on the psychological impact of the pandemic show that COVID-19 is associated with distress, anxiety, fear of contagion, depression and insomnia in the general population. COVID-19 survivors and those suffering from stress-related psychiatric conditions – including mood and substance use disorders – may also be at elevated suicide risk.

“Mental health consequences of the COVID-19 crisis including suicidal behavior are likely to be present for a long time and peak later than the actual pandemic,” reiterates Dr. Iyer.

Partnering with leading organizations  

HCA Healthcare is proud to support and partner with these organizations as we work to support the mental health of our communities:

The Jason Foundation

The Jason Foundation calls youth suicide a “silent epidemic” – it is the second leading cause of death for children and young adults ages 10-24, and approximately 130 people in this age group die by suicide every week. Four out of five teens who attempt suicide have shown warning signs, illustrating the importance of Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.

The Jason Foundation works to prevent youth suicide by preparing young adults, educators and parents to identify and help at-risk youth. Through our partnership, HCA Healthcare and The Jason Foundation work to bring awareness to statistics and myths about youth suicide. We also support educational programs to help students, parents, teachers, coaches, first responders and other youth workers become aware of warning signs and provide resources for those seeking help. In total, 592,627 lives have been touched through events hosted by HCA Healthcare, and 10 states have passed the Jason Flatt Act – legislation to include youth suicide awareness and prevention training in teacher’s in-service – with the help of HCA Healthcare.

Dr. Drummond recently sat down with Clark Flatt, president of The Jason Foundation, to discuss youth suicide in 2021.

EVERFI

In October 2020, HCA Healthcare announced a partnership with EVERFI, an international technology company driving social change through education, to launch a free digital mental health and wellness education course for middle and high school students. This course, called Mental Wellness Basics, is targeted to reach more than 12,000 middle and high school students in an estimated 105 school districts in six states. HCA Healthcare is investing nearly $1 million over three years to sponsor the course.   

Psych Hub

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, HCA Healthcare was proud to join a coalition formed by Psych Hub, the world’s largest online platform for mental health education, to create a free COVID-19 Mental Health Resource Hub. This effort brought together leading mental health advocacy groups, healthcare industry partners and the Department of Veterans Affairs to compile resources on topics like anxiety, grief, eating disorders, suicide and more.  

Suicide prevention and warning signs

“It’s important to talk openly about suicide,” Dr. Drummond says. “Everyone should be aware of the warning signs and know how to respond. If you’re concerned about someone, consider it an emergency.”

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, warning signs of suicide include:

  • Talking about wanting to die, feeling hopeless, feeling trapped with no solutions or feeling like a burden to others.
  • Withdrawing from loved ones or saying goodbye.
  • Giving away possessions.
  • Putting affairs in order, like creating a will.
  • Taking dangerous risks.
  • Displaying extreme mood swings.
  • Making a plan or researching ways to take their own life.
  • Increasing alcohol and/or drug use.
  • Changing eating or sleeping habits.

If you suspect someone is considering suicide, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) recommends talking to them about it by sharing the signs you’ve noticed and asking if they’re thinking about suicide or have a plan. If they say yes, seek help:

  • Don’t leave them alone.
  • Call their therapist, another healthcare professional or the National Suicide Prevention Line at 1-800-273-8255. In an immediate emergency, call 911 and ask for someone with mental health experience to respond.
  • Remove potential means.
  • Stay calm.

Find more resources for navigating a mental health crisis from NAMI on their website.

“I hope this past year-and-a-half has shown us what’s important, what really matters, and I hope that we keep that understanding top of mind,” Dr. Drummond says. “Tell the people you love that you care, that they matter.”

About HCA Healthcare

HCA Healthcare, one of the nation's leading providers of healthcare services, is comprised of 186 hospitals and more than 2,000 sites of care, in 20 states and the United Kingdom. Our approximately 275,000 colleagues are connected by a single purpose — to give patients healthier tomorrows.

As an enterprise, we recognize the significant responsibility we have as a leading healthcare provider within each of the communities we serve, as well as the opportunity we have to improve the lives of the patients for whom we are entrusted to care. Through the compassion, knowledge and skill of our caregivers, and our ability to leverage our scale and innovative capabilities, HCA Healthcare is in a unique position to play a leading role in the transformation of care.

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