Research-based education series guides VA clinicians on suicide prevention

‘From Science to Practice’ helps put research into action


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Heidi Linn, a psychiatric nurse at the VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System, says she’s on the “front lines” of caring for Veterans with suicidal thoughts. One resource she relies on is a new VA educational series called “From Science to Practice.”

Offered through VA’s Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, the series translates published research into informative tips that VA suicide prevention coordinators and providers can use to support their patients. The focus is on relaying suicide risk factors and preventive measures in a concise, easy-to-absorb way.

Linn is among many VA clinicians who have accessed the new series, which is available on VA Pulse, an online information portal for VA employees, and on the website of the Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention. She says the series “allows front-line workers and those vested in preventing suicide among Veterans to access the latest literature updates. It also connects me, as a health care provider, to services within VA that will ultimately benefit our Veterans.”

Dr. Gloria Workman of VA’s Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention leads the educational series. “We’re pulling out the major findings from scientifically grounded articles and making sense of them as a whole,” she says. “What do these documents tell us in terms of how the clinician can work with the patient? How can the clinicians put the findings into action in their clinical work? One of the agency’s goals when it comes to suicide prevention is putting research into action.”

Thus far, Workman and her staff have posted 14 documents, with a goal of completing 42 by next year. Those posted range in topic from the suicide risks associated with military sexual trauma to loneliness, opioid use, and unemployment. Each document includes four major sections—the issue at hand, key findings, implications, and ways everyone can help, with links to VA and other government resources. The documents are limited to one page, front and back, to keep them as “short and sweet” as possible, says Workman.

“We can’t take our foot off the gas pedal in our efforts to prevent Veteran suicide.”

Workman and her colleagues are also developing a companion series called “Together We Can,” which will provide practical information for Veterans, family members, and caregivers to support Veterans at risk of suicide. The topics selected will be similar to those covered in “From Science to Practice.”

“The `Together We Can’ series will be written in easy-to-understand language and will provide Veterans, family members, and caregivers links to resources they can use to help Veterans,” Workman says. “The links and the resources in the `From Science to Practice’ series are for clinician use. As such, the content is different, and the resources listed may vary.”

Workman says both series fit into a much larger array of VA products and services designed to address Veteran suicide. These, in turn, are part of the National Strategy for Preventing Veteran Suicide.

The strategy, says Workman, “includes dozens of objectives to promote wellness, effective treatment, and recovery and provides a framework for identifying priorities, organizing efforts, and contributing to a national focus on Veteran suicide prevention. We can’t take our foot off the gas pedal in our efforts to prevent Veteran suicide.”

To read a longer version of this article, visit the VA Research website.

Photo at top: VA nurses, social workers, and other clinicians can turn to a new VA educational series to learn about the latest research on helping patients struggling with suicidal thoughts. (©iStock/monkeybusinessimages)

Author

Michael Richman

Mike Richman is a writer and editor in VA’s Office of Research and Development. He joined VA in 2016. He previously worked at the Voice of America, one of the U.S.-funded broadcast agencies.

Comments

  1. Glenn Compton    

    H.R. 100 – Veteran Overmedication and Suicide Prevention Act of 2019

    You may be interested in knowing that a bill is being proposed in the House of Representatives that directs the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to study the deaths of every veteran who committed suicide or died by overdosing in the last five years. It’s H.R. 100.

  2. Richard G Kensinger    

    I am a former AF ER Vet from 1969 to 1973 during the Vietnam Conflict. I am also a clinical psychologist (thanks to the GI Bill) and psychology professor. I conduct research on combat trauma. Here are a few of my observations:
    We know the risk factors of attempted suicide (parasuicide) and completed. I’ve conducted both psychosocial autopsies and root-cause analyses on some who have completed. I identify what I refer to as the “suicidal trance” and “point of no return. I find that even the most experienced clinicians, at times, misses the clinical signs of prevention. And, the impact on the clinician is devastating. I agree that your training is critical.

    I am alarmed that only 6 of the 20 suicides/day, are followed by a VAC.
    Rich

  3. Anthony C Mays    

    I know there are good people in the VA trying to help with mental health issues but the system works against them. Case in point: I have been treated for major depression for years mostly with drugs and periodic counseling sessions. My mental health condition has caused friction in my marriage which led me to a suicide attempt this past May. I also quit taking most of my medications believing what was the point to try and stay healthy. On September 15th an argument with my spouse became too much to bear. I called the hotline, but did not want to talk with a voice. I needed face-to-face intervention. So I locked myself in a bathroom and refused to talk to my wife. She panicked and called 9-1-1. When the sheriff arrived, along with an ambulance, he asked me if I wanted to go to the hospital to be checked out. I agreed and told them I was a disabled veteran. I asked to go to my nearest hospital, but the ambulance driver said because I was a veteran, they would probably just send me to the VA hospital near where I lived. I said alright. Enroute, the medic told me the VA was deferring me. I asked what that meant, and he said they would not take me and we would have to divert to another hospital. I ended up at a non-VA facility that was equipped for suicide attempts. Mind you, once the sheriff arrived I stated I was not suicidal to everyone. Nonetheless, the taking of my dignity began. All my possessions were taken and locked up by a security guard. Sitting there in a gown, on a gurney, in a room with a thick steel door (not closed), and guarded, I calmly answered the questions of a nurse, doctor, HR admin, and mental health person. Three hours later, I was released. Thirty miles from home, without a vehicle or money, and no mental health assistance…well, you can imagine the state of my mental health. I never went back home, instead four days later went to temporarily live with my son half the country away. Afterward, this struck me: As part of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) efforts to provide the best mental health care access possible, VA is reminding Veterans that it offers all Veterans same-day access to emergency mental health care at any VA health care facility across the country. So I ask, how could I be deferred? When I received the $12,000 bill for my September 15th incident, I told them to send it to the VA because that’s where it belongs. My story doesn’t end there though. In Pennsylvania, I received quick mental and health care that started me back on the road to recovery. I returned home after five weeks and am trying to get counseling to help me. Unfortunately, unlike PA, receiving quick care in my own VA system (MO/IL) has been lacking. My first visit to a counselor couldn’t be scheduled for five weeks. I hollered and got it down to three weeks. In the meantime, I have been using non-VA counselors to get me through my tense moments. What can I believe other than the VA has failed me in my mental health crisis. And, I’m not even one of those with more serious issues.

  4. Fran Von Lintel    

    I am a Veteran and a Hypnosis Practitioner. How do I get the research and clinicians techniques for Suicide prevention. I want to help these guys and gals with PTSD / TBI. I am also wanting to help spouses and children of these same Veterans.
    Why would the VA refuse to aid the people that are determined to help and council our Veterans.
    I would greatly appreciate a reply.

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