Toward zero suicide

At top, Brian Ahmedani, director of research in the Department of Psychiatry at Henry Ford Health System, explains the importance of changing the mental health care system by implementing a new initiative to battle suicide and suicide risk Tuesday to a crowd of students, professors and community members. (Journal photo by Jackie Jahfetson)

MARQUETTE — Suicide in the United States is rising at an accelerating rate, but health care providers at Henry Ford Health System in Detroit are working to change the statistics and break the stigma by launching a zero-suicide initiative.

As a part of this effort, a Marquette Toward Zero Suicide event was held at Northern Michigan University Tuesday. The event, which featured a speech by Dr. Brian Ahmedani of Henry Ford Health System, was hosted by NMU students Chloe Wilkinson and Sadie Knill from student group Active Minds in conjunction with the mental health awareness campaign Mind Your Health.

Ahmedani, who serves as director of research in the department of psychiatry at Henry Ford Health System and director for the Center for Health Policy & Health Services Research, discussed issues that surround the mental health field and how those are being resolved with a new initiative: aiming to stop suicide with a goal of preventing every suicide.

“It’s a bold, audacious mission,” Ahmedani said. “… It’s that passion that drives us forward and gives us the opportunity not only to remember the people that we love but to also figure out how they can help us to save the next person. And that’s what this is all about.”

The HFHS Zero Suicide Program has four components it implements to treat patients who are at risk of suicide, as well as their families.

The crowd is pictured. (Journal photo by Jackie Jahfetson)

The components are: using the PHQ-9 patient health questionnaire, creating a safety plan with the patient and family, scheduling cognitive behavioral therapy for the patient and continuum of care, scheduling appointments to evaluate the four key components and medication.

The goal is to change the system of mental health treatment, Ahmedani said.

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States and it’s the top cause of injury-related death.

About 20 years ago, suicide was something health care providers didn’t know how to handle because it was a relatively new field of study, Ahmedani said.

But now, mental health awareness has broken barriers and though it’s still in its “infancy stages” there’s about to be a culture shift, he added.

“I believe that we have a chance to actually make an impact here because I believe this stuff works and people are actually using it. And doctors, nurses and social workers actually are starting to know what they’re supposed to do,” Ahmedani said. “And what we need to do is help people who are struggling to get into those services to get the treatment they need.”

Suicide risk is an illness and it’s important healthcare providers understand that, he said, adding, it is not limited only to people who have mental health conditions. Sometimes suicide results from a traumatic brain injury, cancer diagnosis or substance use disorder.

“We need that healthcare system but we also need to extend beyond that health care system because if we wait until people are at their worst and deepest part, then we can only touch a fraction of people who are ever at risk. And we’ll never be able to reach the greater community of people who have an elevated risk,” Ahmedani said.

Risk factors differ from warning signs, as risk factors are characteristics that increase the chance that a person may try to take their life, while warning signs are changes in behavior or presence of entirely new behaviors, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention website.

Risk factors may stem from health, environmental or historical issues. Warning signs can take the form of speech, behavior or mood.

Often times when people are at risk of suicide, they develop a plan and they don’t change their plans, he said.

“Most of the time, people think of a specific plan. And what happens when you’re at risk for suicide — many of you know this — is that it takes over your brain. And you can no longer make clear judgments,” he said. “And the only thing you can do is to do something that you rehearsed in your head and practiced. And so if it’s that rope in the garage and there’s no longer a rope in the garage when you go to get it, you’re not able to cognitively think often to deviate to another path.”

With the efforts being pursued by the HFHS, Ahmedani said it’s important that health care providers don’t allow people to “fall into the cracks” and that communities work together to resolve this growing issue.

For more information on how to prevent suicide, visit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention website at afsp.org. For immediate assistance, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Jackie Jahfetson can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is


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