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Suicide. It is a heavy word. It weighs on your heart and your mind in a way that few other words do.
Worse, child suicide is something altogether unthinkable. Yet, tragically, the child suicide rate has been steadily climbing since 2007.
As a mother of a 10-year-old boy, I find this gut-wrenching.
As parents, role models, healthcare professionals, mental health professionals, and responsible citizens, it is our duty to do all that we can to put an end to child suicide.
Thankfully, we can make a difference – even from outside the behavioral health services.
In 2015, one child under the age of 13 committed suicide every 3.4 days. In 2016, there were 2,560 suicides committed by youth ages 19 and under – 443 of those lost were under the age of 14.
The sad fact is that the depression rate of children between the ages 10 and 18 is higher now than ever before in our nation’s history. Surely, this hits home for all parents, like myself, who have young kids at home.
As of 2016, 9.4 percent of 13-year-olds and 17.4 percent of 16-year-olds had experienced a major depressive episode within the past year.
Depression can lead to suicide. Therefore, our target becomes treating depression safely, effectively, and efficiently.
Luckily, depression is one of the most widely studied mental health disorders and there are several effective treatment options available, including:
So how do we get these effective treatments to the people who need it most?
When you hear the phrase “IT solutions,” what comes to mind?
Software, computers, maybe even robotic automated call-in systems. While these are mechanisms of IT solutions, there is a great deal technology can offer to innately human endeavors like behavioral health treatment.
With a streamlined electronic health record (EHR) workflow in place, behavioral health experts can spend more time with their patients and treatment teams addressing the issues that are causing depression and suicidal thoughts.
We can put IT systems in place that send reminders to treatment providers and patients so prescription refills are never forgotten or an appointment is not missed.
By simplifying organizational systems and processes, we can free up valuable time for our mental health professionals to spend more time with the patients who need their help.
Furthermore, alerts can be coordinated in the system so that nationwide awareness events and supportive campaigns are never forgotten. Rather, teams can plan ahead of time to maximize the impact their initiatives have on the communities they are serving.
Patient education is a massive aspect of behavioral health treatment. In addition to helping patients understand their unique diagnosis and what they can do to get well, educational programs break down the stigmas surrounding mental health. Mental illness is an all-too-common blight, but one that patients can find support for if they know where to look.
Now, we are able to implement educational processes and resources so information is easily accessible within the electronic health record. Behavioral health professionals are able to easily and quickly distribute valuable information and patients can find the answers they need at their fingertips.
Ensuring Long-Term Wellness
Many of the behavioral health organizations I have been fortunate enough to work with operate residential treatment centers (RTCs) that offer programs to help patients rehabilitate and assimilate into a world where they will be on their own without assisted living. In such cases, it is extremely beneficial to set up IT solutions that allow treatment facilities to keep track of patients and their progress, and ultimately facilitate a healthier transition.
Additionally, outpatient services benefit from streamlined workflows to ensure as many patients can be seen each day while also giving clinicians the maximum amount of time with their patients. We can also implement evaluated processes to ensure patients are receiving the care they need and all of their symptoms are addressed compassionately.
Funding can be a struggle for behavioral health facilities. However, receiving valuable grants can make a significant difference in the quality of patient care an organization provides. For example, behavioral health professionals often find themselves overwhelmed with large caseloads. Grant funding can allow an organization to add another member to the team or build additional group resources into the treatment plan to alleviate pain points and serve more patients.
To receive that funding, organizations can apply for grants. IT solutions can facilitate the grant application and reporting processes by pulling the necessary information from the organization’s records pertaining to populations related to mental health. We are also able to gather select information related to specific diagnoses so organizations can receive grant funding specific to substance abuse treatment, general mental health, or serious mental illness.
Not all of us can be behavioral health experts and treat children who are suffering from depression and suicide. But we can use our talents to help those who do treat depression do so more effectively and efficiently.
Even being such a small part of the healing journey is a privilege. I am grateful that I and the rest of the John Lynch & Associates team get to work with clients who fight every day to treat depression, prevent suicide, and save lives. Helping our clients better serve those who are most in need is a true honor.
As a mom of a young boy who is now entering the age range at which kids today are most at risk for depression and suicide, I am thankful for the organizations who are working hard to break down the stigmas surrounding mental illness and are teaching the world that it is OK to ask for help.
Just being a tiny part of the operation that implements IT solutions to help behavioral health facilities better track their patients’ needs, improve patient care documentation so the entire treatment team can work in unison and prevent mix-ups, or improve their ability to secure funding is heartwarming.
While campaigns like National Mental Health Awareness Month (May) and National Suicide Prevention Month (September) are wonderful for raising awareness, we should never stop focusing on these issues, especially when our children are at risk.