More than 500 children have screened positive for suicide risk in Seattle Children’s Emergency Department and inpatient settings over the past six months who presented for concerns unrelated to their mental health. A new clinical pathway known as Seattle Children’s Zero Suicide Initiative (ZSI) is a universal screening method introduced in March 2019 to help identify and treat youth at risk of suicide. The pathway incorporates the National Institute of Mental Health’s (NIMH) Ask Suicide-Screening Questions (ASQ) — a brief, five-question screening by intake nurses that assesses if patients ages 10 and up are currently having or have recently had suicidal thoughts.

On average, every week in 2017, nearly four Washington youths died by suicide and two youths were hospitalized because of intentional self-injuries or suicide attempts. One of the most common misconceptions about youth suicide is the idea that talking about suicide will “plant the seed” of suicidal thoughts that weren’t already there — especially in younger children. While there’s no data to support this misleading theory, NIMH research shows that the suicide rate for children ages 10 to 12 has substantially risen over the past 10 years.

“Early detection of suicidal thoughts is critical to preventing youth suicide. So, we implemented the pathway to ensure our patients are asked about their risk and that we follow up accordingly,” said Dr. Molly Adrian, Seattle Children’s psychologist and co-leader of the ZSI team. Since the ZSI team launched its pathway in March 2019, more than 5,000 patients presenting for nonpsychiatric complaints in the ED and inpatient settings have been screened.

Read more in New Initiative Aims to Prevent Youth Suicide from On the Pulse.