Back in 2009, AZ had the 9th highest rate of suicide in the U.S.  In that year 1,060 Arizonans took their own lives- so it’s easy to see why suicide prevention is an agency priority and is featured in our Strategic Map as a Winnable Battle.  Since we’re responsible for the state’s behavioral health system- we have a leverage point…  especially for the folks that receive services through our public behavioral health system including crisis services. 

One of our primary interventions for this Winnable Battle has been our collaborative Suicide Deterrent System, which was launched in 2009 by Magellan (our Regional Behavioral Health Authority in Maricopa County).  It’s evolved into a training initiative for behavioral health professionals to a comprehensive national model addressing one of the most at-risk populations – folks diagnosed with mental illness. Since kickoff, the initiative has trained more than 3,000 behavioral health care staff to recognize the signs and symptoms of suicide in persons with mental illness, and to help them stay safe and seek help.  The program has also addressed family engagement and support groups for suicide attempt survivors- and has developed clinical tools and procedures for assessing risk and appropriately intervening. 

The ADHS and Magellan Health Services of Arizona won a Council of State Governments Innovation Award this year for the Suicide Deterrent System.  The objective of the Suicide Deterrent System is to make suicide a “never event” for those served by our public behavioral health system.  Nationally, most public sector behavioral health care systems have made suicide prevention a business side-line…  relying mostly on crisis interventionist specialists.  Our model recognizes that to be successful, we need to provide safe, effective, patient-centered, timely, efficient, and equitable care. Our systems approach brings the core business of state-funded behavioral health care to tackle the challenge, including a systematic “do whatever it takes” approach, top leadership commitment, measurement and reporting and robust performance improvement. 

Our collaborative initiative has changed the mindset about suicide prevention. By providing knowledge, skills, tools and management support, this project has made suicide intervention a core responsibility of all behavioral health staff. It recognizes the complexities of suicide and addresses: 1) Behavioral health workers’ skills/confidence to intervene (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training – ASIST); 2) Connectedness for those contemplating suicide (attempt survivor support groups, family engagement); and 3) Risk identification and stratification (clinical care and intervention).