‘Zero Suicide Initiative’ demonstrates Mercy’s commitment amid national suicide crisis

Published: Sep. 21, 2022 at 10:26 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS (KMOV) -- A push to save lives and prevent suicide is making a difference across Missouri. Mercy Hospitals are training staff on how to better serve patients struggling with their mental health through the “Zero Suicide Initiative.”

Therapist Carrie Kirchner is a case worker at Mercy South off Tesson Ferry Road. It’s a role she’s filled for the last decade. She said in the last four years, she hasn’t had a patient die by suicide.

She told News 4 it’s thanks to the “Zero Suicide Initiative” that teaches people how to spot behavioral health issues in healthcare settings.

“It is definitely bringing up our numbers of people coming in,” Kirchner shared. “But that also means we are helping more people.”

IN 2022, Mercy Hospitals’ 40,000 employees completed the training.

All staff members are involved with patients when they report having suicidal thoughts. The patient then completes a screening. Next, a safety plan is put into place.

“We are trying to destigmatize the topic,” Kirchner explained. “Many people are not comfortable talking about suicide. But with a team, we are making it easier to talk to people and make them more comfortable about how they feel.”

The CDC reports that in 2020 suicide rates dropped nationwide after a nearly two-decade increase. It also reports Missouri’s suicide rate is 36 percent higher than the national average.

There is a fear that children will have suffered the most when the 2021 data is revealed.

“We have some concerns there was a possibility of increase among youth,” Zero Suicide Coordinator Kirsten Sierra explained. “Not a population increase but some of the things we have heard anecdotally suggest maybe there will be an increase in youth suicides.

Those numbers are as much as a year away from final calculations.

According to the CDC, suicide was the second-leading cause of death in 2020 in people ages 10-14 and 25-34 in the U.S.

As a result of this initiative, which Mercy started in 2018, the hospital system is now screening 90 percent of its patients for suicide. This screening is a requirement for anyone who walks in the door 12 years of age or older.

“Zero Suicide Initiative” also brings in new mental health resources in high demand.

“Our clinic wait times can be six to 18 months to see a psychiatrist,” Sierra shared. “Now we can connect them with Concert Health and see a trained counselor and talk to someone within seven days.”

All those resources are ones Kirchner wished were available when she battled depression.

“I was in the military,” Kirchner shared. “It was very hush hush and had to learn how to do it on my own. I tell all the people who come into my group how thankful I am they are using these programs to get through these tough times.”

It comes down to a simple truth – mental health is just as important as physical health.

“It’s okay to ask for help,” Kirchner explained. “Asking for help actually makes you stronger because you know you need it and you want to do everything you can to stay alive.”

September is National Suicide Prevention & Awareness Month.

For anyone who is struggling with their mental health, 988 is the new national suicide hotline. It’s open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The number connects the caller with a mental health professional.

For more resources on how to get help or help someone else struggling with their mental health, click here to head over to Mercy’s website.