Burgum, health care system leaders discuss ways to enhance prevention efforts through Zero Suicide initiative

Friday, September 28, 2018 - 6:00pm

BISMARCK, N.D. – Gov. Doug Burgum today met with leaders of health care systems from across North Dakota to discuss ways to enhance suicide prevention efforts through the Zero Suicide initiative.

Zero Suicide is a key concept of the 2012 National Strategy for Suicide Prevention based on the foundational belief that suicide deaths for individuals under care within health and behavioral health systems are preventable. The North Dakota Department of Health’s Suicide Prevention Program supports the Zero Suicide initiative.

Burgum noted that North Dakota saw the largest suicide rate increase in the nation from 1999 to 2016, at 58 percent. Alison Traynor, North Dakota’s suicide prevention director, cited national research showing up to 45 percent of individuals who die by suicide have visited their primary care physician within a month of their death. Using best practices in the Zero Suicide approach, such as standardized screenings and risk assessments, health care systems can decrease their patient suicide death rate by 80 percent.

“To reduce the shame and stigma of addiction and mental illness, we need to normalize the conversation around it,” Burgum said. “As we heard today, we can prevent suicide if we work together, communicate and use best practices. We’re grateful to the health care leaders who attended today’s meeting and shared their commitment to solving this public health crisis.”

The governor encouraged health care providers who haven’t done so to complete the Zero Suicide Organizational Self-Study to gauge their status in terms of becoming a Zero Suicide health care system.

“I think we can implement gold standards of care and make a huge difference,” said North Dakota Suicide Prevention Coalition chair Kora Dockter, who shared her personal story of the loss of her son to suicide. “I believe that the power sits within this room. I believe by working together we can change that trajectory for our state.”

Zero Suicide is a priority of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, a project of Education Development Center's Suicide Prevention Resource Center, and is supported by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Among the more than 40 attendees were leaders from Catholic Health Initiatives, Essentia Health, Prairie St. John’s, Sanford Health, the VA, the North Dakota Medical Association and other major health care providers; representatives of Elbowoods Memorial Health Center in Newtown, which has implemented Zero Suicide; and officials from the Department of Health and Department of Human Services.