Avera Medical Minute: Knowing the signs; Zero Suicide Program

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KSFY) - More than 190 suicides were reported just last year in South Dakota, the most in state history. In response, Avera Behavioral Health and Avera campuses across the area are taking part in the Zero Suicide program.

Heidi Oligmueller says her mom, Bonnie, was always smiling.

"She was a mom, a foster mom, a correctional officer," she said. "We would be at Walmart, and former inmates would come up and say hi."

But, Heidi and her four siblings lost their mother in an instant to suicide. The battle against mental illness became too much.

"My grandmom, my mom's mom, she aged decades in that moment and now that I am a parent I just think just how heartbreaking it must've been for her," she said.

Bonnie passed away at 45 years old, 18 years ago.

"I think we saw it at the end the struggles," Oligmueller said. "But, if you're not there yourself it's really hard to envision that someone is at that point. But, having 18 years pass it kind of just solidifies the permanence of it all."

That permanent solution to a temporary problem is what Avera doctors and nurses are hoping to prevent. Their goal is simple, to help those who are struggling.

Dr. Matthew Stanley, Avera Behavioral Health Services vice-president, and psychiatrist says that Avera has added more practitioners into their primary care physicians. So, clinics across the health care system have a social worker, a counselor, right in some primary care clinics.

We've worked with our primary care physicians and nurse practitioners and PAs to feel more comfortable about asking the questions inquiring about depression," Dr. Stanley said.

The team at Avera will use several screening methods from having patients fill out a questionnaire to allowing patients to speak one-on-one with their primary care doctor.

The Zero Suicide initiative challenges doctors to know that any suicide death in behavioral health or a clinical setting can be prevented.

"It's about integrating our health care system more thoroughly, screening across our entire system," Dr. Stanley said. "So, it could be primary care out in kind of the furthest reach of our clinics, where there's only one doctor for 60 miles, all the way down to our main Avera campus."

If you or your loved ones are showing signs of depression be sure to reach out and ask for help.

"Just don't be afraid to seek help and for the people around them or dealing with people who have lost someone to suicide that's still their loved one and I don't think the way they died doesn't need to overshadow the way they lived," Oligmueller said.

Avera is training everyone from their staff from security guards to clinic providers on what to look for in a suicidal person.

For more information, you can visit avera.org or call 1-877-At-Avera.