According to the most recent Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) statistics, roughly 20 Veterans die by suicide each day. Of those 20, only six have received care with VA.
That alarming and preventable loss of life is why VA Secretary Robert Wilkie has emphasized suicide prevention as one of his top priorities for the agency in 2019.
Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center has continued to focus on reducing incidents of suicide among Veteran patients through staff training in evidence-based interventions, partnerships with community entities, targeted outreach and more. Recently, more than 80 mental health clinicians, including psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, nurses, telemental health practitioners and others attended Innovations in the Assessment and Treatment of Suicidal Risk training at Charleston VAMC, led by David Jobes, Ph.D, ABPP, creator of the Collaborative Assessment and Management of Suicidality (CAMS) methodology and recognized expert in the treatment of suicidal behaviors.
“CAMS is a therapeutic framework that relies on a different kind of approach than what we are used to as mental health providers,” Jobes said. “This model centers on engaging with the patient in a very empathetic way and working collaboratively with them to identify their individual suicidal drivers. We then focus on those drivers – like a dog with a bone – until they are resolved.”
Jobes explained that patient-identified suicidal drivers generally fall within four main categories: with relational responses being the most commonly identified, followed by financial or vocational concerns, feelings about self, and diagnosed psychological disorders coming in at a distant fourth.
“In other words, when asked why they are considering suicide patients rarely say ‘my anxiety is too much to manage,’ but instead will point to marital problems with their spouse or difficulty finding or maintaining a job,” said Jobes. “The key is to actively target those suicidal drivers, which leads to a decrease in completed suicides.”
“This training allows us to add more treatment options in addressing suicide among our patients,” said Mark De Santis, MS, Psy.D., Charleston VAMC suicide prevention coordinator. “Some of our practitioners are already using CAMS, and there is strong evidence that supports the efficacy of this technique so we really hope to expand its use even further. The goal is to provide options – different treatments will work better for some Veterans than others.”
The Joint Commission, the nonprofit organization that accredits more than 21,000 health care organizations and programs, officially recognized CAMS as a viable treatment for suicide in 2016. Since then, Jobes has been working with VA hospitals across the country, including Charleston VA, to encourage its use and hopefully help reduce suicide rates nationwide among the Veteran population.
In addition to formal medical treatment at a VA facility, Veterans in distress can speak or chat to trained professionals 24/7 via the Veterans Crisis Line by calling 1-800-273-8255, then Press 1, or texting 838255. Veterans do not need to be enrolled in VA health care to contact the Veterans Crisis Line.