Opinion Columns & Blogs

A new approach to assessing suicide risk

Last month, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shocked Kansas health officials and the public alike when it reported that the suicide rate in our state had increased 45 percent between 1999 and 2016.

Kansas’ rate easily exceeded the suicide rate of the nation overall, which the CDC reported as having risen to 25.4 percent. Kansas’ suicide rate ranks 19th overall.

Suicide has become one of our state’s most critical behavioral health concerns. In addition to prevention campaigns and efforts to raise public awareness, the Kansas mental health community is determined to take positive, scientifically based steps to correct this sad statistical trajectory.

One of those steps is being spearheaded by Larned State Hospital, which is working with state mental health agencies on the adoption of an effective suicide assessment tool called the Columbia-Suicide Severity Rating Scale.

Despite the impact suicide has on families, communities and public health, methods for assessing suicide risk have been inconsistent and ineffective. But a new, effective, evidence-based tool is now available for use. Initially commissioned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Columbia-Suicide Severity Rating Scale was developed by Dr. Kelly Posner at Columbia University.

It has been successfully deployed to screen millions of patients for suicide risk in a variety of health-care settings worldwide and, most importantly, has been shown to help prevent patient suicide.

Larned State Hospital, the largest psychiatric facility in Kansas, will be implementing use of the C-SSRS method this summer in a collaborative effort with mental health centers in the western region of the state. An additional goal is to partner with the surrounding communities to explore the use of the C-SSRS by first responders and teachers.

The Columbia Lighthouse Project was formed to disseminate the C-SSRS, optimize the scale’s impact by supporting its users, and continue to build the science behind the scale. As part of this project, Posner, the scale’s developer, will give a presentation at this year’s Larned State Hospital Mental Health Conference, “Frontiers in Mental Health,” in August. Her presentation will demonstrate to Kansas mental health professionals how to use the Columbia rating scale and train them on how to administer the tool effectively.

A key factor of the C-SSRS method is to create a common language for caregivers to facilitate communication and increase sensitivity for identifying persons at highest risk for suicide. The C-SSRS has now been adopted by the National Institute of Mental Health, the CDC, the FDA, the Department of Defense, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, and the Joint Commission for Health Care Accreditation.

We believe all mental health professionals in the state will benefit from this presentation, which is at the forefront in addressing suicide in our country and around the world. Those interested in participating in this annual conference can obtain more information at kdads.ks.gov.

Dr. Michael Burke, M.D., Ph.D., is chief medical officer at Larned State Hospital.