39% of those who commit suicide visit an emergency room in the year prior to death, statistics show

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MURRAY, Utah (ABC4 News) – Utah hospitals are working to spot warning signs for potential suicidal tendencies in emergency room patients; statistics from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention show 39 percent of those who commit suicide visit an emergency room in the year prior to their death. 

Locally, of the roughly 250 ER patients that visit Intermountain Medical Center in Murray each day, staff flag about four to ten of them for warning signs of suicidal tendencies. 

“Some of the red flags are history of anxiety or history of depression or if they voice any sort of hopelessness,” said behavioral health social worker Anna McMillan, who works for Intermountain Healthcare. “Then, we will do the CSSRS which is the Columbia Suicide-Severity Rating Scale to see if there’s any concern right now,” she said. 

At that point, the patient is referred to a crisis intervention team at the hospital. In some cases, patients can go to the Access Center at LDS Hospital, which is also designed specifically for mental health emergencies. Still, the hospital stressed that anyone experiencing a mental health crisis can go to any emergency room. 

“You walk in, you register, you do get a medical screening,” said McMillan, “Then you see a crisis worker and a psychiatrist.”

Assistant Emergency Department Director Gary Brunson said his staff sees about 250 emergency room patients a day. Daily, some of them are experiencing mental health crises that need to be addressed immediately. 

“We make sure they’re never alone at that point,” said Brunson. “Then all the patients that come in are seen by an ER physician as well as one of our licensed social workers.”

“A lot of time they are substance abuse patients that have decided that it’s hopeless and a family member typically brings them to an emergency department,” he added. 

The AFSP is working on Project 2025, which aims to train medical professionals around the country to better respond to mental health emergency patients. With a seasonal change around the corner, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) warn suicides actually spike during the spring, not the wintertime as some have assumed. 

Brunson said while some check themselves into an emergency department voluntarily, almost all are brought in by an alert family member.

“It’s almost always it’s a cry for help and we try to always recognize that and get them the help that they need,” said Brunson.

If you or anyone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). 

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