beach-couple-wander.jpgA unique program for patients with depression has achieved a zero suicide rate over the last two and a half years, a stunning decline within a population that, even while receiving mental health treatment, normally loses hundreds per 100,000 every year.

The program, chronicled in an article in this week’s Journal of the American Medical Association, was created by the Behavioral Health Services division of the Detroit-based Henry Ford Health System in 2001.

The rate of suicide in Henry Ford’s patient population decreased by 75 percent in the first four years of the program, from 89 per 100,000 patients down to 22, which is significantly lower than the annual rates for suicides in similar patient populations. For the last two and a half years though, that rate has dropped to zero per 100,000. This remarkably low rate of patient suicide stands in marked contrast to an expected rate of 230 per 100,000 as reported from scientific research.

“The encouraging results of the initiative suggest that this care model can be highly effective for achieving and sustaining breakthrough quality improvement in mental health care,” says C. Edward Coffey, M.D., Henry Ford Health System vice president and CEO of Behavioral Health Services.

Some of the features of the program include:

  • Patients are assigned into one of three levels of risk for suicide, each of which requires specific intervention.
  • All psychotherapists excell in Cognitive Behavior Therapy.
  • All weapons are removed from patients’ homes.
  • Patients are granted three access methods for help: drop-in group appointments or same-day access to care, e-mail contact, or home visits.
  • A website to educate and assist patients.
  • All staff completes a suicide prevention course.
  • Staff members check in on patients by phone.
  • Partner with and educate the patient’s family members.

The National Institute for Mental Health estimates more than 33,000 people die by suicide each year in the United States. More than 90 percent of people who kill themselves have a diagnosable mental disorder, most commonly a depressive disorder or a substance abuse disorder.

Risk factors for suicide include a prior suicide attempt; family history of mental disorder, substance abuse or suicide; family violence, including physical or sexual abuse; firearms in the home, the method used in more than half of suicides; and incarceration.

Please seek help now, if you, or someone you know, may be contemplating suicide.
If you are feeling depressed or think you might be suffering from a mental illness, find a therapist in your state or call the Suicide Hotline at 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433) or 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Photo courtesy of Sun Star


  1. Having worked in mental health, both in the academic field and in administration as well as health and policy planning, this is nothing short of spectacular. Thanks Geri – I will be passing this on to administrators in several regions of Canada.

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