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

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 clerk at Mercy South on Tesson Ferry Road. It’s a role she’s filled for the past decade. She said no patient had died by suicide in the past four years.

She told News 4 it’s thanks to the “Zero Suicide Initiative,” which teaches people how to identify behavioral problems in healthcare.

“It definitely increases our number of people coming in,” Kirchner said. “But that also means that we help more people.”

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

All staff attend to patients when they report suicidal thoughts. The patient then undergoes a screening. Next, a safety plan is drawn up.

“We’re trying to destigmatize the issue,” Kirchner said. “A lot of people are uncomfortable talking about suicide. But with a team, we make it easier to talk to people and give them a more comfortable sense of how they’re feeling.”

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The CDC reports that suicide rates have fallen nationwide in 2020 after nearly two decades of increases. It is also reported that Missouri’s suicide rate is 36 percent higher than the national average.

There are fears that by the time the 2021 dates are known, children will have suffered the most.

“We have some concerns that there has been a likelihood of an increase among youth,” said Zero Suicide coordinator Kirsten Sierra. “No population increase, but some of the things we’ve heard anecdotally suggest that there may be an increase in youth suicides.

These numbers are up to a year away from definitive calculations.

According to the CDC, suicide was the second leading cause of death among people ages 10 to 14 and 25 to 34 in the United States in 2020

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

The Zero Suicide Initiative also brings in new, high-demand mental health resources.

“Wait times at our clinic can range from six to 18 months to see a psychiatrist,” Sierra shared. “Now we can connect them to Concert Health and within seven days we can see a trained counselor and speak to someone.”

Kirchner wished for all of these resources as she battled depression.

“I was in the military,” Kirchner said. “It was very quiet and I had to learn how to do it on my own. I say to all the people who come into my group how grateful I am that they are using these programs to get through these difficult times.”

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

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

September is National Suicide Prevention & Awareness Month.

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

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

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