Utah adopts rating scale that successfully predicts suicide attempts

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SALT LAKE CITY — Soon health care professionals all over the state will have access to a tool that can help predict a person's suicide risk.

"Suicide is our number one preventable cause of death and we know that identification is the key to the prevention," said Kelly Posner, director of the Center for Suicide Risk Assessment at Columbia University.

She lead a team in developing a tool that successfully ranks a person's risk based on answers to a series of direct questions that include "Have you wished you were dead or not alive anymore, or wish to fall asleep and not wake up?"

"It used to be that people would ask about the suicide attempt but then miss the person who bought the gun yesterday," explained Posner.

The Columbia-Suicide Severity Rating Scale (C-SSRS) will be especially helpful to primary care doctors who are often on the front lines of defense against suicide.

"Fifty percent of suicides see their primary care doctor the month before they die," explained Dr. Posner. "We should be asking these questions the way we monitor for blood pressure."

The C-SSRS is already being used by some mental health care professionals in Utah and as early as next year University Hospital will begin using it all charting. Intermountain Healthcare also has plans to use it in its hospitals.

"I've been involved in suicide prevention for twenty years and this has been our best year ever in terms of resources and programming," said Doug Gray, a suicidologist at the University of Utah.

He lobbied the state for years for a state suicide prevention coordinator and this year the legislature created two positions. Debi Lewis will lead efforts in schools for the State Office of Education. Kim Meyers will coordinate statewide efforts through the Utah Department of Human Services.

"My role is to really help provide an infrastructure and link efforts. So that we are using our resources in the most effective way," said Meyers.

Posner says the C-SSRS will help put resources to the best use by preventing unnecessary intervention.

"In the past it wasn't so clear which answers to worry about. It's impacting care delivery and service utilization."

Posner said suicide prevention efforts in Utah are particularly exciting.

"Utah is taking it to the next level in all the ways that we can do it. With the legislature, around the state, it is a comprehensive model."

Posner will be the keynote speaker at NAMI Utah's state conference. She will also provide free training for the C-SSRS.


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