People receive mental health services in a community group setting.

A Holistic Approach to Suicide Prevention: Integrating Care for Chronic Health Conditions

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, a time dedicated to raising awareness about suicide prevention and promoting efforts to reduce the incidence of suicide.

In 2021 suicide took 48,183 lives, one death every 11 minutes in the United States. With suicide rates on the rise, identifying and addressing risk factors is essential. While suicide rarely has a single cause, research indicates that chronic health conditions and serious health problems can increase the likelihood of individuals experiencing suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

The Connection Between Chronic Health Conditions and Suicide Risk

Increasing education and destigmatizing the connections between physical and mental health can serve as strategies for prevention and early intervention. Below is a list exploring the relationship between select health conditions and suicide risk.

  • Comorbidity and Increased Suicide Risk: A study across eight Mental Health Research Network healthcare systems found that 38% of individuals who died by suicide had comorbidities, which indicates a nearly twofold increased risk of suicide compared to the general US population sample. Comorbidity refers to the presence of two or more chronic health conditions in an individual. This suggests that those with multiple health issues may be more susceptible to suicidal thoughts and actions.
  • Hypertension: The same study found that 27.8% of individuals who died by suicide had hypertension, in contrast to 15.4% of the general US population. While hypertension itself does not directly cause suicide, it can contribute to stress and exacerbate mental health challenges, making individuals more vulnerable.
  • Chronic Pain: Another concerning finding of the study is that 22.6% of individuals who died by suicide had back pain, compared to 11.5% of the general US population. Chronic pain conditions, like back pain, may lead to depression, hopelessness, and an increased risk of suicide.
  • Physical Health Problems in Older Adults: In older age groups, physical health problems may become precipitants of suicide. Data from the U.S. National Violent Death Reporting System reveals that 41.9% of individuals aged 65-74 and 57.7% of those aged 75+ had physical health problems as a suicide precipitant. These findings may indicate the need for specialized support and care for older adults with chronic conditions.
  • Mental Health Diagnosis: 83% of individuals who died by suicide had received health care in the year prior to death, but half of them did not have a mental health diagnosis, according to a 2014 study across eight Mental Health Research Network health care systems. If scaled, that percentage would indicate that widespread behavioral health screening may need to be conducted even among individuals who have not received a prior mental health diagnosis.

Integrated Behavioral Health Approaches for Suicide Prevention

The statistics may seem disheartening, but there is hope in prevention. Suicide prevention is a complex challenge that demands multifaceted approaches. Here are some strategies for healthcare providers to consider:

  • Universal Suicide Screening: Broader suicide screening has shown promising results, with one study indicating a 30% reduction in suicide attempts among patients who were screened for suicide risk. This highlights the importance of proactive screening in various healthcare settings. Utilizing Virtual Care Management services to facilitate integrated behavioral health evaluations, including PHQ-9 and suicide risk assessments, can offer a convenient and effective way to identify individuals in need of timely intervention and support.
  • Comprehensive Mental Health Services: Developing comprehensive mental health services and support networks is essential. Individuals with chronic health conditions should have access to mental health services to address their unique challenges. Behavioral Health Monitoring complements Chronic Care Management services by providing a coordinated approach that addresses the interconnectedness of mental and physical health.
  • Support for Older Adults: Given the higher prevalence of physical health problems as suicide precipitants in older adults, specialized support and mental health services for this demographic are crucial. Care Coordinators can play a vital role in supporting whole-person health for older adults by providing personalized guidance, ensuring continuity of care, and addressing the unique healthcare needs that come with aging.
  • Community and Family Involvement: Encourage family members, friends, and communities to be actively involved in supporting individuals at risk. A strong support network can make a significant difference.

Suicide prevention is a collective effort that requires awareness, education, and action. Chronic health conditions and other serious health problems significantly contribute to suicide risk, making early identification and intervention essential. By implementing proactive behavioral health monitoring, expanding mental health services, and fostering supportive environments, we can work towards reducing suicide rates and saving lives.

Remember, if you or someone you know is struggling, help is available 24/7. Call 988 if located in the United States. See here for a list of suicide crisis lines by country.

TimeDoc Health’s Behavioral Health Integration and Chronic Condition Monitoring Solutions

TimeDoc Health’s Behavioral Health Monitoring and Chronic Care Management software and services help address the complex relationship between physical and mental health. Together, these services offer a comprehensive and integrated approach to monitoring a patient’s chronic conditions and mental well-being. This whole-person, integrated approach ensures that healthcare teams gain a thorough understanding of their patients’ health, enabling them to identify potential risks, intervene early, and provide truly patient-centered care.

To learn more about TimeDoc Health’s solutions for Behavioral Health Integration, contact us.