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Published on April 19, 2017

Just ask - because you can save a life

Did you know that every 13 minutes in the United States someone takes their own life?

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death for Americans of all ages. It's a serious public health issue that hits close to home. Both Wisconsin and Iowa have higher rates of suicide (13.1 and 12.79 respectively per 100,000 people) than the U.S. average of 12.71.

Michael Dolan, MD

Michael Dolan, MD, Gundersen executive vice president

Gundersen Health System is working to change these statistics with a new screening tool – the Columbia-Suicide Severity Rating Scale (C-SSRS) – that was first used in December 2016.

David Bleidorn, MD

David Bleidorn, MD, Gundersen General Internal Medicine

The C-SSRS is a brief questionnaire that helps identify people at the highest risk for suicide. Gundersen staff uses the tool to screen hospitalized patients for risk of suicide (ages 12 and older) and patients in the clinic setting who are at risk.

"Talking about suicide is not an easy conversation, but it's the right thing to do for our patients, families and our communities. Last year in La Crosse County 17 people died by suicide. We're fortunate to be in the position to help save lives, but we have to be asking these difficult questions," says Michael Dolan, MD, Internal Medicine and executive vice president and medical chief operating officer at Gundersen.

"The C-SSRS uses standard questions to simplify and improve our ability to detect patients at risk, and allows us to intervene appropriately to prevent suicide in our community," explains David Bleidorn, MD, Gundersen General Internal Medicine.

While the C-SSRS has proven to be effective at reducing the rate of suicide in a variety of clinical and community settings, never underestimate the impact you could have in preventing suicide. If someone is showing warning signs of suicide, here are three things you need to know:

  1. Question: Ask the person directly, "Are you thinking about suicide?" Don't be afraid that you are putting ideas in their head. Just having someone care enough to ask can make a huge difference.
  2. Persuade: If the person answers yes, convince them to get help and offer to go along. Do not leave them alone.
  3. Refer: Get help from professionals. Call Great Rivers 211 or 911. Take the person to the emergency room.

"We should all be asking questions if someone is not acting like themself. The more we do—everywhere, by everybody, all the time—the more we're going to have a chance of reducing the suicide rate in our community," says Dr. Bleidorn.

For more information and resources, go to gundersenhealth.org/behavioral-health.