According to the National Institute for Mental Health, suicide is one of the leading causes of death in the United States. Unfortunately, the people who may be struggling the most often have the hardest time accessing the care they need. At Neighborcare Health, we focus on treating the whole person. In addition to providing medical, dental and social services, Neighborcare is committed to caring for the emotional well-being of all our patients.
Talking about feelings
We believe in making it as easy as possible for our patients to access medical, dental and behavioral health care. Our primary care providers work closely with on-site behavioral health consultants to make sure patients’ emotional health needs are addressed. Patients can often meet with a behavioral health team member the same day they meet with their medical provider. Addressing patients’ emotional health is a regular part of their care, and contributes to an effective care plan for overall health.
“Talking about your feelings with your care team can make a big impact on your health,” says Ryan Anderson, psychologist and integrated behavioral health program manager at Neighborcare Health. “We try to make talking about stress or depression a normal part of care so that the patient feels comfortable, and so the provider can detect concerns and provide help early on.”
Creating a safety plan
Behavioral health teams are able to evaluate signs of depression, suicidal thoughts or other mental health concerns, and create treatment plans to help. Jessica Jelmberg, the behavioral health consultant at Neighborcare’s Lake City and 45th Street clinics, has been caring for Neighborcare Health patients for 10 years.
“Depression can presents itself in many different ways,” says Jelmberg. “Many patients recognize that something feels off, but may not realize that they are experiencing depression or another condition we can treat.”
If a patient has suicidal thoughts or a plan to end their life, the behavioral health consultant will create a safe place to talk, determine the risk for following through on those thoughts and find the best way to help. One way behavioral health consultants help patients is by working with them to create a safety plan. This plan outlines the steps to take when suicidal thoughts start to occur. Safety plans help patients recognize what triggers these thoughts, learn coping strategies and build a critical support system.
“One of the most important thing you can do for someone who may be struggling with depression is to ask how they are feeling,” says Anderson, “They often want help, but may not know how to ask for it. Many people believe that asking about suicidal thoughts can plant an idea or trigger the action, but it can be just the opposite. Having someone ask can be an opportunity for those who are struggling with these thoughts to get help.“
Current Neighborcare Health patients can meet with a behavioral health consultant at their neighborhood medical clinic. To receive behavioral health services, become a patient at one of Neighborcare’s medical or dental clinics first.
Suicide prevention in schools
Being a teenager is not easy. Neighborcare Health’s school-based health center teams understand this, and have experience helping teens thrive.
"Health promotion is important with all youth," says Janet Cady, Neighborcare Health's school-based health center medical director. “All teens experience stress. The teen years are a time of rapid change and intense emotions. They can be dealing with challenges at school, at home, from their peers and with their own feelings. ”
Our school-based health center care teams ask all youth about their mood to identify those who may be struggling with more serious issues, such as depression or suicidal thoughts.
“Establishing trust is key.” says Laura Escalona-Flores, a mental health therapist based at Seattle World School. “For teens, being able to talk to someone they trust can help them overcome feelings of hopelessness and help them take control of their health. It’s healthy for people to talk about their feelings.”
Care teams check in more frequently with patients who are at risk for suicide or depression. While teens with depression are at an increased risk for suicide, not all suicidal youth are depressed. Symptoms of suicide risk in teens could be emotional outbursts, social isolation, anxiousness or even physical signs like stomach aches. Teens who are LGBTQI or have a history of substance use are also more at risk.
If the patient has thoughts of suicide or if they have made a plan to end their life, the urgency of the situation changes. The provider will always prioritize the teen's safety. That might include involving a parent or guardian, as well as other resources to prevent harm.
“Safety is the most important thing,” says Cady. “We have to separate passing thoughts of suicide from serious intent, and figure out the right plan for each student’s situation. Young people can feel better when they get the support they need. The first step is for patients to have access to people who can help.”
Research shows that children who receive regular health care miss fewer days of school and get better grades. Many of the real-world barriers to health care, such as transportation, insurance coverage or time away from work, do not exist at school-based health centers. They also make it convenient for families and school staff to ensure that children are getting the regular medical, dental and mental health care they need to thrive.
“A big part of working with youth is making sure they feel supported,” says Escalona-Flores. “We can help them develop healthy habits, which can have a big impact on their long-term health and emotional well-being.”
Neighborcare Health has 13 school-based health centers in Seattle Public Schools, and also has mental health therapists at Seattle World School and Hamilton International Middle School. Any student in Seattle Public Schools can access the school-based health centers. Neighborcare also has a health center at Vashon Island High School, available to any Vashon Island School District student. Find a school-based health center.
- If you or someone you know is in an emergency, call 9-1-1 immediately.
- If you are in crisis or are experiencing difficult or suicidal thoughts, call Crisis Connections’ 24/7 crisis line at 866-427-4747
- You can also text NAMI to 741-741 to be connected to a free, trained crisis counselor on the Crisis Text Line.