Prevent Suicide Wisconsin, along with other state, organizational and corporate entities has embraced the notion of Zero Suicide. There has been a lot of buzz in the media and in the medical community about “Zero Suicide”.  In many cases, it has been either ignored or laughed at. “There is no such thing as zero suicides. We can’t stop them all.” Or, “Why set a goal that is unattainable?”

But, let’s look at it another way. If we don’t have a goal of ZERO, what number should it be? Should we say that dropping the number of suicides in Wisconsin from over 800 per year to 650 is acceptable? Or 500? How about 300?  Of course, dropping the number is a good thing – but what about those families and loved ones of those who still die by suicide? Do they see that?

Zero Suicide is a basic commitment to suicide prevention in the healthcare and behavioral healthcare systems. Zero Suicide is based on a systematic approach to quality improvement; it does not rely on the heroic efforts of individual clinicians but rather the conscientious and consistent use of specific tools and strategies throughout organizations.  Just as health systems have been able to initiate systematic practices and policies that alleviate medical errors and falls—often referred to as “never events”--, the Zero Suicide Model can and has reduced the number of suicides by individuals.

The Henry Ford Health System (HFHS) in Michigan has shown great success with this initiative.  There, a team of those involved with patient care and quality improvement were able to develop its Perfect Depression Care Model, making suicide prevention its primary goal. By use of promising and evidence-based practices, HFHS was able to reduce the suicide rate among plan members by 80 percent.

Intrigued by the results of the Perfect Depression Care Model, in 2013 and 2014 Mental Health America of Wisconsin put together teams to spend two days at HFHS for a Perfect Depression Care training. Each team consisted of two to three people from organizations around the state with the plan that they would return to their facilities and begin initiating these practices in their own systems. The organizations were varied; from small private behavioral health clinics, to a large multi-county public system provider, to full service health systems. The response of these organizations was enthusiastic.

Since that time MHA Wisconsin has continued to coordinate yearly trainings, first in coordination with the Suicide Prevention Resource Center and their Zero Suicide Academy (2015 and 2016) and more recent through a Zero Suicide training customized for Wisconsin organizations (2017 and 2018). The trainings are followed by a one year learning community which supports implementation of Zero Suicide policies and practices. These efforts have been supported by grant funding from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services and the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.