A teenage boy arrives at Seattle Children’s Emergency Department (ED) with an increased heart rate. His parents are scared and unsure of what could be causing their son’s pulse to spike. While the nurse takes the patient’s vitals, she asks him a series of questions about suicide — prompting the patient to share that he tried to overdose on prescription medication the night before. The nurse informs the provider, and an immediate plan is set in motion to further assess not only the patient’s physical health, but his mental health, as well.
A 10-year-old girl enters the ED with a sprained elbow after taking a tumble on the soccer field. Her parents have been taking her to therapy to help with her anxiety, and the therapist communicates his findings with them often. Because she is so young, the therapist has never directly asked the patient if she’s ever had suicidal thoughts. After the ED nurse initiates suicide-screening questions, the girl admits that she has had thoughts about harming herself in the past. Prior to discharging the patient, a mental health evaluator shares resources and information about suicide with the family, and the provider contacts the patient’s therapist and asks the girl’s suicidal thoughts be addressed in their next appointment.
These are just two stories of the more than 500 children who have screened positive for suicide risk in Seattle Children’s ED and inpatient settings over the past six months who presented for concerns unrelated to their mental health. These crucial “catches” were made with help from a new clinical pathway known as Seattle Children’s Zero Suicide Initiative (ZSI), a universal screening method to help identify and treat youth at risk of suicide.