Dr. Ammr Al-Houssan on Developing Clinical Skills for Suicide Prevention

Dr. Ammr Al-Houssan on Developing Clinical Skills for Suicide Prevention

Not Just Mental Health Professionals But All Clinicians Must Be Sensitive to Opportunities to Prevent Suicide, Ammr Alhoussan Says

Since 2016, Dr. Ammr Al-Houssan has been credentialed by safeTALK Suicide Prevention (Suicide Alertness for Everyone: Tell, Ask, Listen, and KeepSafe), a service of the Canadian Mental Health Association | Living Works. Dr. Al-Houssan’s interest in suicide prevention is driven by some shocking statistics about interactions with doctors in the week or weeks before suicide in the United Kingdom.

A study of suicide victims in Scotland, for instance,found that:

  • In the week before committing suicide, 15.8 percent of those who took their lives had seen a primary care provider, and 10.5 percent had seen a physician in a hospital setting.
  • In the 28 days before committing suicide, 38.3 percent had made contact with a general practitioner, and 21.1 percent had seen a hospital practitioner.
  • In the 56 days before committing suicide, over 50 percent of Scots who took their own lives had consulted with a physician.

Patients who announce their intention to end their lives, of course, are usually constrained from doing so. But what can doctors do to become more aware of suicidal intentions in the patients that they see for other complaints?

For Dr. Ammr Alhoussan, the answer is safeTALK. The “safe” in safeTALK refers to “suicide awareness for everyone.” The acronym “TALK” refers to the actions health professionals must take to help those with suicidal ideation: tell, ask, listen, and keep safe. Training in safeTALK procedures is highly structured, giving physicians and other care providers graduated exposure to situations in which they can help.

In this half-day training program, Dr. Ammr Al-Houssan says, care providers learn about the widely held misconceptions that prevent physicians and others from recognizing the signs of impending suicide. Participants in safeTALK training also work through a library of 60- to 90-second videos illustrating both alert and non-alert situations.

Dr. Ammr Al-Houssan believes that Canadian physicians can learn when they need to intervene to prevent a potential suicide. Doctors can prevent suicide when they recognize cues for action in time.