Some sobering realities are brought to light in September, which is designated Suicide Prevention Month. Consider that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide was responsible for 48,000 deaths in 2021, making it a leading cause of death in the U.S. That same year, an estimated 12.3 million adults seriously thought about suicide.
Partnering with the Zero Suicide Institute, AdventHealth Porter in Colorado is working to help identify trends and gaps in mental health care with the goal of saving lives through suicide prevention and care.
To that end, the partnership identified the need for a follow-up program for patients who were experiencing anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, or suicide attempts. For three years, AdventHealth’s Rocky Mountain Region facilities have been filling the void for mental health follow-ups for patients in need through the Caring Contacts program.
Terri Lawson, a peer support specialist at AdventHealth Porter has worked on the Caring Contacts team since its inception in 2020 at the hospital.
“On the days I work, I usually make about 20 calls. Before I make any follow-up calls, I look at the patient’s chart to see why they came in, what resources they were given upon discharge, and anything pertinent to their safety plan,” said Lawson. “Although not every patient who answers the phone wants to chat, I have found that most people are very appreciative of the phone call and receptive to having a conversation.”
The Caring Contacts team works hard to ensure their patients receive the resources they need. They also use their personal experiences to connect with patients and give them the time and space they need to feel heard.
“I always make sure discharged patients are connected with Rocky Mountain Crisis Partners because they have both peer counselors and licensed clinicians that talk to patients,” Lawson said. “Since I have a lot of behavioral health lived experience, I find it helps me connect with our discharged patients, and I want them to continue to have that experience through the peer counselors at RMCP. Other than that, I really try to tailor the resources to the individual and what they are looking for. I often recommend GriefShare, Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-Anon, homeless shelters, etcetera.”
Peer support specialists review the individual’s safety assessment, safety plan, and the specific resources offered prior to placing the outreach call. This ensures that peer support specialists have a full understanding of why the individual presented to the emergency department, what their safety plan is, and then address resource needs.
“I have found in the three years that I have been making these phone calls that people just want to know that there is someone out there that cares and is willing to listen,” Lawson shared. “In our busy world, people often feel overlooked. Caring Contacts accepts people where they are with no judgement and gives them the tools to advance their mental health journey after they return home.”
She added, “This job can be difficult, but it is an honor to make these calls. I ask God to give me the words to brighten their day and let them know they are valuable and important.”
As one might imagine, the calls the Caring Contacts team make are not only impactful for patients but also for team members making the calls. One specific interaction has stuck with Lawson:
“I called a young man who was suicidal, depressed, alcoholic and was suffering from the grief of losing his father. When I introduced myself and explained why I was calling, he burst into tears. He told me his father had just died and that his father’s name was also Terry. He believed it was a sign from his dad, and he told me his story. I listened for as long as he wanted to talk. When he was done crying and telling his story, I was able to connect him with a GriefShare program I facilitate at Porter, connect him with an AA friend to talk about his alcoholism, give him the information for AA as well as provide information for Al-Anon meetings that his girlfriend could attend. Al-Anon is for people who have a friend/family member that suffers with addiction. We ended the call with prayer. I believe this call, in addition to the resources he was given upon discharge, gave him a willingness to change his life and with the belief that better days were ahead.”
To hear more about Lawson’s story and the work she does, watch this segment featured on KUSA-TV in Denver.