Momentum – Beacon’s progress bringing Zero Suicide to life
Sometimes we get so involved working on an initiative, it’s hard to mark our own progress. One year ago at this time, Beacon Health Options was still drafting our suicide prevention white paper. In February 2017, Beacon released, “We Need to Talk About Suicide.”
In the most positive of ways, Beacon hasn’t been the same since.
After the launch of Beacon’s white paper that explored the Zero Suicide model, the company’s energy for forging suicide prevention efforts at Beacon and beyond is palpable. It’s not a surprise. The emotional toll of a suicide death can’t be measured, and almost everybody, in one way or another, has been affected. The numbers around suicide, on the other hand, offer a more black-and-white picture.
- Approximately, 41,000 Americans die by suicide each year.
- Firearms account for almost half of suicide deaths.
- Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S.
However, perhaps the most compelling “number” is the following:
- For every one person who dies by suicide, there are 278 people who move past serious thoughts about killing themselves.
This is the piece of datum that Beacon prefers to focus on as we launch our own suicide prevention campaign, focusing on three main areas: 1) leadership and cultural change; 2) training; and 3) operational alignment with a Zero Suicide strategy. Recognizing September as Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, Beacon is pausing to reflect on where we are and need to go in these three important areas.
- Leadership and cultural change
The momentum behind the Zero Suicide initiative has been the result of a unique blend of corporate vision to articulate the message and locally-led staff initiatives to translate the ideas to actions.
From California to Massachusetts, from Florida to Washington, approximately 150 Beacon employees have volunteered to become Zero Suicide champions, comprising approximately 25 workgroups. Workgroup initiatives include staff Lunch & Learns; developing resource cards with warm-line numbers and other resources; partnering with health-plan partners to develop integrated Zero Suicide workgroups; developing provider education materials; participating in suicide-related service events, such as Out of the Darkness Walks; and more.
Additionally, Beacon Lens has been regularly posting personal stories of suicide to get the conversation started at Beacon and beyond. The courage behind sharing these stories is humbling. The stories themselves are haunting. But they’re doing their job as Beacon employees start to talk about the most taboo of topics.
“As a Zero Suicide champion in Illinois, I have watched the passion for suicide prevention spread through our engagement center,” commented Trenda Hedges, Beacon Recovery Team Manager. “It has not only changed the way we think about the services we offer, but this Zero Suicide campaign has actually changed how we provide services. It’s okay to say Zero Suicide is the goal! Let’s talk about it.”
Developing a competent workforce is a major component of Beacon’s suicide prevention strategy. As a first step, we have launched Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training – a program that teaches clinicians and non-clinicians alike to recognize a mental health crisis and how to deal with it. So far, Beacon has hosted a train-the-trainer session for nine employees who join already MHFA-certified staff in New York and Colorado to ensure that, in the coming months and years, Beacon employees can get MHFA training.
Beacon also invites our provider and health-plan partners to start their own suicide prevention efforts. As noted above, Beacon workgroups are developing informational provider materials. Other training opportunities include provider appreciation breakfasts as well as one-on-one educational sessions. Beacon has also developed a toolkit to help our partners launch their own suicide prevention campaigns.
- Operational alignment with suicide prevention
Beacon’s 2017 white paper discussed the importance of how we should all view suicidal behavior disorder – “a treatable condition in its own right, rather than being a side effect of depression or any other underlying mental health problem.” That transformative view invites a new way of how we do business regarding suicide, anywhere from coding to case management activities. Here at Beacon, we are starting the process of determining what internal processes occur today, what needs to change, and then implementing those changes. Change won’t occur overnight, but we’re excited about the momentum that is helping us to become a better company.
There was a time when people didn’t talk about their cancer diagnoses due to the “shame” of it, but not so today. That’s where we need to be when it comes to talking about suicide. There is no “shame” in illness, and like cancer, there are steps to be taken in preventing and treating a succinctly named condition – in this case, suicidal behavior disorder.