Teen suicide screening study to begin in Tucson in July

Teen suicide screening study to begin in Tucson in July

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Banner-University Medical Center's Emergency Department staff will use a new tool to screen teenagers for suicide risk, starting in July.

It won't matter why the teens are in the ER.

It's part of the ED-STARS, Emergency Department Screen for Teens at Risk for Suicide study that's being funded by the National Institute of Mental Health.

The hope is that the new tool will be better than the current system at finding young people contemplating suicide so they can get the help they need.

"When we talk about suicide being the second leading cause of death in teenagers, I mean that's a huge avenue, a huge area that we can intervene and save lives," said Dr. Dale Woolridge, Banner-UMC Pediatric Emergency Physician and the principal investigator of ED-STARS at the University of Arizona Department of Emergency Medicine.

He said Arizona is among the top 10 states in teen suicide.

He said there was about a 25 percent increase in the number of teen suicides in Arizona from 2014 to 2015. That's ages 12 to 17.

"About 50 percent of them are successful at the first attempt. The impact is huge if you can catch them in advance of that," Dr. Woolridge said.

Now 23,Tony Bishop survived a suicide attempt when he was younger.

"I kind of felt really isolated and alone despite being around friends all the time, just because of my identity," Bishop said.

Bishop started feeling isolated in middle school, trying to fit in. He said, by college, he knew he identified transgender and that, along with the pressures of school, led to a suicide attempt.

"I had sleeping aids on hand, so I took quite a few of those," Bishop said.

Bishop texted friends who took him to the emergency room. With treatment, he is much better now.

The UA Department of Emergency Medicine has joined other emergency departments in the U.S. to study thousands of teenagers and determine how well the new screening tool works to identify teenagers at risk of suicide.

The computerized tool goes beyond the standard, generic questions teenagers now are asked in the ER.

The new tool adapts, tailoring the questions to fit that individual person.

"I think you're going to have a much more accurate response rate, identifying--am I not waiting to go on because of a stressor that I have at home or of a stressor that I have at school? Do I not fit in for a different reason? Is it alcohol or drugs? Is it domestic violence in the home?" said Dr. Woolridge. "We'd be able to capture these individuals and save lives."

"Someone wants to feel like they're actually being listened to. So, if it's tailored to their situation, I think people are more likely to open up. They're able to say how they're feeling and then get the help they need," said Bishop.

Dr. Woolridge said, if the new screening tool does help curb teen suicide rates, it will be shared with other emergency departments around Arizona, the nation and the world.

He expects it will be available in about two years or sooner.

If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, there is help. Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text "START" to 741741.

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