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Suicide Care for Physical and Occupational Therapists

presented by Susan H. Eastgard and Jeffrey Sung

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Satisfactory completion requirements: All disciplines must complete learning assessments to be awarded credit, no minimum score required unless otherwise specified within the course.

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How can physical therapists play a role in suicide care? By learning the steps of screening and referral for suicide risk, therapists can partner with their patients to start the path to recovery. This course will present the steps of screening and referral for suicide risk and offer case examples for reflection and practice. With knowledge and skills in suicide prevention, physical therapists will be better prepared to help guide suicidal patients towards recovery.

Meet Your Instructors

Susan H. Eastgard, MSW

Sue Eastgard is a nationally recognized expert in the field of suicide prevention. She has worked on mental health issues for 30+ years as a clinician, manager and director of crisis services and suicide prevention efforts. She is currently working as the Director of Training for Forefront, a suicide prevention education and research program based…

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Jeffrey Sung, MD

Jeffrey C. Sung, MD, is an acting instructor with the University of Washington Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. Since 2002, his clinical responsibilities have included direct service and consultation in the care of individuals facing homelessness, medical illness, substance use, and psychiatric conditions. He has taught psychotherapy, suicide risk assessment, and managing response to patient…

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Chapters & Learning Objectives

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1. Introduction and Overview

This chapter will review the legislative and clinical rationale for training physical therapists in suicide care. Because physical therapists form strong relationships with patients and work with patients at risk of suicide, training in screening and referral for suicide risk will help physical therapists learn how to partner with patients to address this risk. The first step in this process is learning about the suicidal process to inform the attitudes and approach towards patients at risk of suicide.

2. Knowledge about Suicide

In order to take steps to address suicide risk, physical therapists will need knowledge about risk factors, protective factors and warning signs of suicide. This chapter will review statistics related to suicide that provide evidence for risk factors, protective factors and warning signs of suicide. These risk factors, protective factors and warning signs will be used later in screening for suicide risk.

3. Screening for Suicide Risk

This chapter will provide guidance on when and how to ask about suicide risk. When risk factors and warning signs are present, the physical therapist can use these to create context and ask directly about suicide. Because patients at risk of suicide may feel anxiety or discomfort with this topic, the physical therapist will need to manage their personal responses to suicide and have a set of skills to ask the question in a manner that coveys caring and confidence.

4. Connectedness

Fostering connectedness has been shown to prevent suicide among at-risk individuals. This chapter will review the evidence for connectedness in suicide prevention and provide guidance on how to connect with a suicidal person.

5. Managing Access to Lethal Means

Research suggests that how someone attempts suicide can be as important as why they attempt suicide. This chapter will review the evidence for reducing access to lethal means in suicide prevention and provide guidance on how to counsel patients on managing access to lethal means.

6. Referring for Help

Referring for help completes the initial process of screening and referral for suicide risk. This chapter will review potential sources of support for the suicidal patient and how the therapist can connect the patient with these resources.

7. Suicide Loss Survivor Summary

With over 40,000 suicide deaths in the United States each year, physical therapists will likely encounter patients who have lost a loved one to suicide or experience a suicide loss themselves. This chapter will briefly review resources for suicide loss survivors and how physical therapists can support a patient who has experienced a suicide loss. This chapter will also summarize the steps of screening and referral for suicide risk.

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