Spring Nurses’ Day Conference Focuses on Suicide Prevention

August 15, 2018

Continuing its long tradition of offering twice-a-year professional development opportunities, the McLean Hospital Nursing Department presented its Spring 2018 Nurses’ Day Conference on Friday, May 11, in Pierce Hall. The daylong program, titled “Preventing Suicide: The Intersection of Public Health and Psychiatric Nursing,” examined state and federal suicide prevention programs, reported on national suicide trends and statistics, and offered practical advice and training to nurses working with potential suicide victims in clinical settings. In addition, an attempt survivor told her compelling and inspiring personal story to a full house of nurses and staff.

Statistics, Impact, Strategies, and Resources

The event’s first speaker was Kelley Cunningham, MS, director of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s Suicide Prevention Program and a member of the Executive Committee for the Massachusetts Coalition for Suicide Prevention. In her talk, “Statistics, Impact, Strategies, and Resources,” she reported that suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. and the second leading cause for people age 10 to 34. She said that Massachusetts ranks near the bottom in suicide rates by state across the country, largely, she explained, because of access to health resources, funding for suicide prevention programs, and tough gun laws. Still, she cautioned that suicide rates in Massachusetts and throughout the U.S. have been on the rise.

Nursing conference
Kelly Cuningham, MS, presents her talk, “Statistics, Impact, Strategies, and Resources”

To address the problem, Cunningham offered several suggestions. First, she called on everyone to change the language we use around suicide. Using phrases such as “died by suicide,” “survivor of suicide loss,” and “attempt survivor,” she argued, can help change the conversation around suicide and bring more dignity and respect to everyone affected. She also advocated for a “national strategy” to help attempt survivors and pushed for health professionals to receive more training on evidence-based approaches such as collaborative assessment and management of suicidality (CAMS), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and cognitive behavior therapy for suicide prevention (CBT-SP).

Also, Cunningham discussed the work of the Zero Suicide initiative, a national effort focused on bringing quality improvements to the health and behavioral health systems to identify and assist individuals at risk and improve outcomes. Finally, she told the nurses at the event that they should be mindful of the stress and difficulty of helping those facing suicide. “It’s extremely important that in the work that we do we take care of ourselves so we can help others,” Cunningham said.

Lived Experience

Cunningham’s talk was followed by a presentation by Jillian Aucoin from the Massachusetts Coalition for Suicide Prevention. During her “Speaking of Lived Experience” presentation, Aucoin discussed her long, often difficult, journey through the health care system. Now a certified peer specialist at Advocates, Aucoin thanked the nurses in the audience for their work in helping individuals facing suicidality and those in recovery. She asked that health professionals dealing with those in need take care to “address basic needs, restore humanity, and remind people that they have value in the world.”

Model of Engagement

For the afternoon portion of the conference, attendees heard from Mona Shattell, PhD, RN, FAAN, department chair and professor in the Department of Community, Systems and Mental Health Nursing at Rush University College of Nursing in Chicago. In her talk, “Model of Engagement: Suicide Prevention on Inpatient Units,” she focused on interpersonal communication skills such as presence, empathy, and attunement. Attendees were encouraged to think about ways these nuanced components of communication are translated into their practice.

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