In March, an unprecedented collaboration between the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), and National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) resulted in the development of the Blueprint for Youth Suicide Prevention. The blueprint comprises a consensus summary of expert recommendations, educational resources, and specific and practical strategies for pediatricians and other health care providers to support youth at risk for suicide in pediatric primary care settings. It is ambitious and far-reaching in scope and speaks to the growing understanding that suicide care pathways offer a clear ray of hope toward a shared “zero suicide” goal.
Following the declaration of a national emergency for child and adolescent mental health, the blueprint represents a resource to help us move forward during this national emergency. It offers practically focused suggestions at the clinic site and individual level, in addition to community and school levels, to tackle the deeply concerning and alarming increasing rate of emergency department visits by 30% in the last 2 pandemic years for youth suicide attempts. A reflexive visit for an emergency mental health evaluation in an emergency department after a disclosure of suicidal ideation isn’t always the next best step in a pathway to care, nor a sustainable community solution with the dearth of mental health and crisis resources nationally.
With this new tool, let’s proceed through a case of how one would approach a patient in the office setting with a concerning disclosure.
Emily is a 12-year-old girl who presents for a routine well-check in your practice. Her mother shared with you before your examination that she has wondered if Emily may need more support. Since the pandemic, Emily had increasingly spent time using social media and watching television. When you meet with Emily on her own, she says, “I know that life is getting back to normal, and I am supposed to be excited for that, but now I have some anxiety about doing what I used to do. I’ve had some thoughts that it would be better to sleep forever and not wake up ...”
The blueprint recommends universal screening for suicide in all youths aged 12 and over. Not all children, like Emily, will be as open about their inner thoughts. The blueprint provides a link to the ASQ, which comprises questions to ascertain suicide risk and takes 20 seconds to complete with a patient. It is recommended as a first-line screening tool by the NIMH: Suicide Risk Screening Tool. This tool can guide one’s clinical thinking beyond the question of whether or not a child feels “suicidal” after a disclosure such as Emily’s. The blueprint also provides a tip sheet on how to frame these screenings to ensure their thoroughness and interpersonal effectiveness.
You go through the ASQ with Emily and she revealed that she has had thoughts about suicide but not currently and without further plans. According to the ASQ, this screening falls into the category of a “non-acute positive screen (potential risk identified),” and now the patient requires a brief suicide safety assessment to determine if an emergency mental health evaluation is needed.