With suicide rates rising and an alarming number of teens and young adults at serious risk for suicide, many health professionals are not fully prepared to  recognize a patient’s psychiatric difficulties. A team of researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) recently came up with the ASQ Toolkit, a simple four-question survey for health professionals to help identify and get help for at-risk youth.

NIMH’s Division of Intramural Research Programs created the free Ask Suicide-Screening Questions (ASQ) Toolkit that can be used in various medical settings. According to the NIMH, the toolkit (available in many languages) is easy to use, making it effective in many settings including emergency departments, outpatient clinics, primary care offices, and inpatient medical/surgical units.

Before using the toolkit, organizations must have a plan in place to have a standard set of effective next steps for patients who do test with an outcome that indicates they are at risk. Whether that is a further evaluation with an on-site mental health counselor or another trained professional, the toolkit isn’t meant to be used without a follow-up plan.

No matter what their area of practice or setting, nurses and physicians can quickly assess patients by asking the four questions in the toolkit. If a patient answers yes to any of the questions, it’s a red flag for the medical professionals to consider the patient at risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviors. From there, the toolkit offers guidance on the next steps that will be most helpful for the patient and will also help them access the help they need.

Gaining this extra knowledge is essential skill to have no matter who your general patient population is. According to the World Health Organization,  “Suicide accounted for 1.4% of all deaths worldwide, making it the 17th leading cause of death in 2015.” With such astounding facts, it’s imperative that nurses are able to have the tools to support them in identifying youth who might be at-risk. To help that, the toolkit even offers scripts like this nursing script for emergency room settings or this nursing script for inpatient medical/surgical settings.

The toolkit’s importance is highlighted in the rising numbers of youth who die by suicide. But underneath those shocking numbers are the hidden numbers of even greater numbers of people who are suffering with thoughts of suicide or even attempts at suicide. In fact, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention estimates that for each person who dies from suicide (all ages), 25 more make a suicide attempt. Early intervention by healthcare professionals who can identify the risk and then have the resources to help the patient can be a turning point for the youth.

The ASQ Toolkit is only one resource for nurses to use in helping patients in a mental-health crisis or who are suffering from long-term suicidal ideation. With proper steps in place to help patients who do screen positive, it is also a potentially life-saving tool that healthcare setting and organizations might find worth investigating.

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil is a freelance writer based in Bolton, Massachusetts.
Julia Quinn-Szcesuil

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