One thing I’ve learned from this Mental Health Awareness Month is that we all #NeedALittleHelp sometimes. During these unprecedented times, many of us are seeking online resources to help us take care of those we love and others under our care. For those who have loved ones or patients struggling with suicidal thoughts and feelings, this may be an especially stressful time when resources and support are needed most.
If you’re a mental health provider, you may already have your go-to resources for the assessment and management of patients at risk for suicide, including tools for safety planning, suicide prevention, and resources for reducing access to lethal means. But if you’re new to mental health topics or are a provider looking for some new and innovative tools, the Psychological Health Center of Excellence (PHCoE) has just released a toolkit for the updated 2019 VA/DoD Clinical Practice Guideline for the Assessment and Management of Patients at Risk for Suicide. PHCoE, in collaboration with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the U.S. Army Medical Command (MEDCOM), has developed five clinical support tools (CSTs) to help health care teams deliver evidence-based treatment, and to aid commanders, patients and their family members/caregivers with clear, practical information derived from research on how to help those at risk for suicide.
New CSTs currently available include:
This CST is a valuable informational and educational brochure for families and caregivers. It helps address common questions those with loved ones struggling with suicide risk often have, such as:
- “What factors might put my loved one at risk for suicide?”
- “What warning signs should I look out for and how do I help a loved one in crisis?”
- “Is there help available and where can I get resources and information?”
This resource is designed for use by anyone seeking information on how to support a person at risk for suicide, but is also an essential addition to any clinical provider’s toolkit.
You may already be familiar with safety plan worksheets and how they’re routinely used in mental health treatment to help reduce suicide risk. This updated Safety Plan Worksheet is based on Stanley & Brown’s safety plan development and use (2012) and is endorsed as one effective approach to safety planning in the VA/DoD 2019 clinical practice guideline (CPG). The printable tool is designed to enable a health care provider and their patient to collaboratively identify the patient’s warning signs, sources of support, coping strategies, ways to access health care and crisis assistance, and reasons for living. Providers should give the completed safety plan to their patient and include a copy in the electronic record. To assist providers in using the Safety Plan Worksheet with their patients, instructions are provided as well as an innovative digital alternative to the paper safety plan:
For another CPG-endorsed safety planning option, the self-print Crisis Response Plan tool is an exciting toolkit addition. This printable, collaborative safety planning tool is designed for trained providers and their patients to create a dynamic plan to reduce patient risk for suicidal behavior. Based on Bryan & Rudd’s crisis response plan model (2010), this tool also includes instructions for providers and crisis hotline numbers for easy use.
Reducing access to lethal means is a component of various evidence-based approaches to reducing suicide risk. This provider tool contains information about counseling patients at risk for suicide on how to reduce their access to lethal means, as well as helpful firearm safety recommendations and provider resources. If you want to know more about lethal means counseling for your patients, this CST is for you. A related resource for military leaders to support their role in suicide prevention and taking care of service members at risk for suicide, Reducing Access to Firearms: A Suicide Prevention Guide for Military Leaders, is coming soon.
These newly released CSTs compliment other 2019 VA/DoD Clinical Practice Guideline tools for the assessment and management of patients at risk for suicide created by the VA and MEDCOM, including the Suicide Risk Provider Pocket Card and the CPG Patient Summary.
Whether you are a provider, patient, family member, caregiver, or military leader, I hope one or more of these tools will be useful when you #NeedALittleHelp providing care and support for those at risk for suicide. You can download these CSTs and other resources on PHCoE’s Clinical Practice Guidelines and Clinical Support Tools webpage. Check back for updates on new tools, resources, and upcoming information on how to order print copies of the new suicide risk CSTs.
Dr. Anthony is a contracted clinical psychologist and evidence-based practice subject matter expert at the Psychological Health Center of Excellence. She specializes in treatment of serious mental illness and the consequences of traumatic exposure and is a member of the clinical support tool development team.
The views expressed in Clinician's Corner blogs are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Psychological Health Center of Excellence or Department of Defense.