The Health Section

Protective factors can provide hope in fight to prevent suicide

Editor’s note: Sept. 10, 2017, through Sept. 16, 2017, is National Suicide Prevention Week.

While clinicians can and will continue their important work to understand, recognize, and manage the risk factors associated with suicide, it’s difficult to predict if a person will make a suicide attempt during his/her life. Aetna strongly feels, however, that identifying and fortifying various protective factors can provide a person with hope and help prevent him/her from having or acting on suicidal thoughts.

Protective factors are what buffers a person from experiencing suicidal thoughts or behaviors, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Having support and being connected with family, friends and the community, physical activity, spirituality, support around life stressors, as well as having access to quality care for mental health, are considered positive and protective factors.  Supporting these protective factors is an important component of suicide prevention.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) states there’s no single cause for suicide. The warning signs of suicide include how a person talks, how he/she behaves and what his/her mood is like. People may talk about feeling trapped or experiencing pain. They may act recklessly, withdraw from activities and isolate themselves. They may experience a range of emotions from depression to rage or humiliation.

While it’s important to assess people for all the risks associated with suicide, determining how isolated or hopeless they feel is also significant. If we think about isolation and hopelessness as potential risk factors, we should start to think about protective factors. Anything that decreases the two feelings helps the person.

Supporting robust evidence-based suicide prevention programs and policies is a critical component of suicide prevention. In an effort to make an impact, Aetna Behavioral Health is contributing $50,000 to the AFSP. Aetna is AFSP’s first partner in the “Large Healthcare Systems” area of Project 2025. Launched in October 2015, Project 2025 is a high-impact, collaborative initiative developed by AFSP, aimed at achieving the organization’s bold goal of reducing the annual suicide rate20 percent by 2025.

Changing the conversation around mental health and reducing stigma are also key. Numerous organizations have played a role in changing the conversation around mental health. The National Council for Behavioral Health’s “Mental Health First Aid” teaches people how to recognize and respond to developing mental health problems or crises in others and in themselves. Aetna has a long partnership with the National Council for Behavioral Health. In 2013, 30 Aetna associates were trained in Mental Health First Aid in the wake of Sandy Hook. As of 2017, Aetna has trained 3,058 associates, community members and providers.

Aetna continues to work to provide Mental Health First Aid to first responders in the U.S. In May 2017, 30 police officers in Connecticut were trained in a customized Mental Health First Aid course thanks to a $40,000 grant by the Aetna Foundation.  This initiative will facilitate early identification and access to treatment for those who may be dealing with behavioral health issues, a critical component of suicide prevention strategy.

Aetna is also a founding member of the Campaign to Change Direction, which began in March 2015 and encourages people to pay attention to the basic signs of a mental health issue. The campaign aims to normalize the conversation about mental health to reduce stigma. People who can talk about their mental health without the fear of being stigmatized makes them feel less isolated and more open to getting treatment.

Although identifying protective factors and risk factors can help a person, ensuring they have access to care is crucial. Aetna’s Resources for Living EAP service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week and is often the first line of defense when helping people address their emotional and lifestyle needs, helping to prevent sadness, stress and anxiety from growing into a larger problem. Resources for Living  enables members and anyone in their household to receive not only emotional support, but also help with daily challenges such as child and elder care, housing and transportation needs, relationship issues, financial planning and legal assistance.

Aetna has also developed MindCheck, a free, confidential online tool and smartphone app available to the public. MindCheck uses simple color coding to indicate levels of distress, and within moments, helps people better understand their emotional health and well-being, identify signs of distress in themselves and others, and connect with resources for emotional support. Given that suicide often occurs when stressors exceed current coping abilities, providing a unique and easy way for people to stay in check with their emotional well-being, along with access to support resources, is another way Aetna is taking the lead in the fight against suicide.

We believe there is no health without mental health.  That’s why Aetna is committed to treating the whole person and addressing all the factors that influence overall health, with a dedicated focus on social relationships, environment and individual behavior. Our initiatives and resources are not only enhancing connectedness, but they are also meant to increase protective factors for our members and their families so that they have the knowledge, tools and resiliency to lead healthier, happier lives.