I’ll start out my letter with a question: How many of you who are reading this know someone who has attempted or died by suicide? I suspect there was a lot of head nodding, some anguish, some tears, much grief, constant worry and whole lot of questioning why this happened. Why did 1,175 Coloradans die from suicide in 2017? A simple question with many complicated answers. The gut-wrenching statistic in our state is that suicide is the leading cause of death among 10-24 year olds and we have one of the highest suicide rates in the nation. It is estimated that up to 50 percent of those who die by suicide have seen a primary care provider within the previous month. Thirty percent have seen a behavior health provider within the previous month.
In 1999, The Henry Ford Medical Group in Detroit, Michigan implemented a Zero Suicide Prevention system of care within their Department of Behavior Health Services which was named the “Blues Busters.” The plan had lofty goals—screen everyone using an evidence-based screening tool, then determine who is at risk for self-harm or suffering from other behavioral issues, such as depression or anxiety. Their protocols also included an integrated and coordinated system of care which also emphasized evidence-based care. The results were astounding, and within a few years the system was implemented within their primary care departments. From 1999-2009 they had an 80 percent reduction in suicides including ZERO suicides in 2009. The North Central Health Care System in Wisconsin, which cares for 10,000 lives, saw ZERO suicides in 2015 following implementation of a similar system.
In 2016, Colorado Senate Bill 16-147 passed, which allowed for the creation of a Colorado Suicide Prevention Model based on the Zero Suicide care model. Regretfully, there were no funds appropriated for this bill. In the next two weeks, the Joint Budget Committee will vote on funding $861,000 for the Zero Suicide bill. Although this sounds like a small amount of money, it moves us in the right direction and will help us learn what we’ll need for the next steps.
Zero Suicide is more than just a hope. I urge all of you to call or email our Joint Budget Committee members and ask them to approve funding for this important first step.
Jonathan Gordon, MD
Retired Regional Department Chief of Family Medicine,
Kaiser Permanente Colorado
Mental Health Colorado Board of Directors
Jefferson Center for Mental Health Board of Directors