Health Advisory: Suicide Risk Screening and Safe Medication Storage

This health advisory aims to highlight best practices and support all health care and social service providers in promoting well-being and safety for people of all ages. Our common goal is to prevent further increases in youth suicide attempts.

In addition to the ongoing stressors young people face, this part of spring 2024 includes most school districts’ spring breaks, three major religions’ important holidays, a rapidlyapproaching end of the school year and impending state testing. Young people might feel that their routines have been disrupted or their links to protective factors and supports outside the family are interrupted. 

Routine suicide risk screening during tumultuous times is good clinical practice. We recommend activating regular and routine mental health screening for all adolescents in your care. Connecting young people with culturally relevant supportcan also help prevent social isolation and support positive identity development.

Home safety is an important part of mitigating identified suicide risk. We recommend providers encourage families to securely store all medications and drugs, including over-the-counter medications such as Tylenol, Advil, and allergy medicine. It is also critically important for families who own firearms to secure or remove their firearms if there is a mental health concern with a family member, since firearms have high lethality in suicide attempts. 

We are aware that young people’s mental health concerns are straining the capacity of our treatment systems. Nonetheless, providers should consider to investigate and act on concerns about suicide risk. We thank you for all you do to keep King County’s children and their families safe and healthy.

ACTIONS REQUESTED:

  • Review the warning signs of potential suicide risk.
  • Ask patients and clients about risk factors, including recent loss or trauma, unsecured firearms or medications in the home, social isolation, and thoughts of suicide, death, or that life may be too much to bear.
  • Assess suicide risk in greater depth with patients receiving related behavioral health care, leaving inpatient treatment, or with a history of suicidal behaviors or attempts.
  • Encourage all patients and clients and their families to take the following actions:
    • Talk with each other about emotional health and coping with stress. Ask explicitly about suicide risk, particularly with adolescents, elders, and household members experiencing difficulties.
    • Secure all firearms and medications in the home as a precautionary measure. If someone in the household is at risk of suicide, removing firearms or medications temporarily  from the home may be the most effective course of action. Families can be encouraged to dispose of unwanted or expired medications through April 27th Drug Takeback Day events,
    • Make a safety plan if concerned about suicidal thoughts or behaviors. One possible template is available here. Share it with others in the household as appropriate.
    • Reach out to make positive connections with friends, family, coworkers, and others. Connectedness is a key protective factor against suicide, and making connections is important to maintaining well-being.

Other resources for young patients and their families:

Other resources for providers:

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