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California health officials urge physicians to screen patients for suicide risk

July 14, 2020
Area(s) of Interest: Mental Health Public Health 


Concerned about the COVID-19 epidemic’s immediate and long-term impacts on mental health, California health officials are urging physicians to screen patients to help identify those at risk of suicide.

In a letter to all California medical and behavioral health providers, the California Surgeon General and the directors of the California Departments of Health Care Services and Public Health encourage providers to ask the four “Ask Suicide-Screening Questions" developed by the National Institute on Mental Health (NIMH). In a NIMH study, a “yes” response to one or more questions identified 97% of youth aged 10  to 21 at risk of suicide. The letter gives simple instructions and resources about what to do if you identify someone who is at risk.

Social isolation, financial insecurity, and unemployment all drive increases in deaths from suicide, overdose and illness, disproportionately impacting communities of color. Individuals who have a history of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are particularly at risk.

The majority of people who die by suicide visit a health care provider in the months before their death. This represents a tremendous opportunity to identify those at risk and connect them with mental health resources.

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