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Idaho health system now asks patients about depression, suicide

What happens when you walk through the door of Boise's new crisis center?

Take a tour through Pathways Community Crisis Center of Southwest Idaho, Idaho's fourth crisis center. It's open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and will help keep people in crisis out of jail and the emergency room. See what it's like inside.
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Take a tour through Pathways Community Crisis Center of Southwest Idaho, Idaho's fourth crisis center. It's open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and will help keep people in crisis out of jail and the emergency room. See what it's like inside.

St. Luke’s Health System is now screening all patients for depression and suicide during their regular check-ups with primary care physicians and clinics.

St. Luke’s started to roll out the depression and suicide screenings in May 2018.

Adult patients will be screened once a year. Patients ages 12 to 17 will be screened at every visit.

“This is a major step in starting to identify suicidal ideation,” said Megan Stright, the St. Luke’s Health System administrator of behavioral health. “We also believe this will help to start the process to finally break through the stigma associated with suicide, and even simply talking about suicide.”

Idaho had the 5th highest suicide rate in the U.S. last year, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. The hospital system also noted recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data that show a 43 percent increase in suicide rates in Idaho between 1996 and 2016.

“Almost one person dies from suicide every day in Idaho,” a news release from St. Luke’s said.

Hospital officials hope the new protocol will help identify depression and suicidal thoughts in patients who might not otherwise reach out for help.

The screening starts with questions about mood, loss of interest in favorite activities, and thoughts of self-harm. For patients who say they have those symptoms, the screening moves on to questions about sleeplessness, loss of appetite and energy levels.

When health care providers refer patients to specialists for their mental health issues, about half of patients never follow up. So, in addition to the screenings, St. Luke’s is adding behavioral health specialists to its family practice clinics.

“If one of our providers suspects someone may need additional help, they can reach out to a social worker or therapist just down the hall,” Stright said. “We also have psychiatrists and psychologists who can be an additional resource for our primary care providers, and walk them through what to do next, if a patient should need further screening and care.”

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Audrey Dutton is an investigative reporter for the Statesman. Contact her at 208-377-6448, adutton@idahostatesman.com or on Twitter at @audreydutton.

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