Asking About Suicide Is Vital for First Responders and the Public They Serve
Suicide risk assessment is a first step in suicide prevention, and it’s a critical skill for first responders.
- Police officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians (EMTs), and paramedics often work on the front lines of suicide prevention. They are called into situations in which a person may be suicidal — even if not reported as such — and they serve as a resource for people who are experiencing serious emotional, mental health, and substance use issues. Properly assessing a person’s risk for suicide helps first responders determine next steps and save lives.
- Statistics show first responders may be at a heightened risk for suicide themselves, because they work in high-stress jobs with repeated exposure to traumatic events. That’s why the ability to recognize suicide risk is so vital within their own departments or units.
More police officers die by suicide than by gunfire and traffic accidents combined, according to data collected by The Badge of Life, a Connecticut-based suicide prevention organization for police officers in the U.S. and Canada.
A fire department is three times more likely in any given year to lose a firefighter to suicide than to a death in the line of duty, the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation reports. A national Florida State University study of more than 1,000 firefighters found that nearly 50% had suicidal thoughts at some point during their career, and about 16% reported one or more suicide attempts.
A survey of EMTs and paramedics in the U.S. found that 37% had contemplated suicide and 6.6% had attempted it. A survey of Canadian paramedics found that about 28% had contemplated suicide and 60% knew of a paramedic who had.
The Columbia Protocol Is Helping First Responders Save Lives and Target Resources
Suicide is preventable, and asking the right questions to identify who is at risk is a critical first step to stopping it. Whether used within first responders’ departments or in their service to the public, the Columbia Protocol — also known as the Columbia-Suicide Severity Rating Scale (C-SSRS) — is the ideal risk assessment tool because it’s:
- Simple. Ask all the questions in a few moments or minutes — with no mental health training required to ask them. First responders can ask the questions of a colleague they are concerned about or someone they interact with on one of their service calls, typically using the two- to six-question screener.
- Efficient. Use of the protocol redirects resources to where they’re needed most. It reduces unnecessary referrals and interventions by more accurately identifying who needs help — and it makes it easier to correctly determine the level of support a person needs, such as patient safety monitoring procedures, counseling, or emergency room care.
- Effective. Real-world experience and data show that the protocol has helped prevent suicide.
- Evidence-supported. An unprecedented amount of research has validated the relevance and effectiveness of the questions used in the Columbia Protocol to assess suicide risk, making it the most evidence-based tool of its kind.
- Universal. The Columbia Protocol is suitable for all ages and special populations in different settings and is available in more than 100 country-specific languages.
- Free. The protocol and the training on how to use it are available free of charge for use in community and healthcare settings, as well as in federally funded or nonprofit research.
Using the Columbia Protocol to develop and standardize threat assessment and response protocols
- Provides a common language for understanding the level of risk.
- Helps first responders and others in communities determine next steps and save lives.
- Helps share information to coordinate prevention and crisis response efforts.
- Increases preparedness.
- Protects against liability because negligence is in NOT asking; asking while trying to save lives is proof of responsibility.
- Reduces anxiety in first responders.