KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Missouri and Kansas continue to struggle with the suicide epidemic.
On Friday, mental health experts from around the region came together at Cerner's Innovations Campus to collaborate on strategies to help save lives.
"If someone has a medical emergency -- if they have a heart attack in this room or a car accident outside this building -- our responsiveness to getting them help immediately, quickly and appropriately is standardized across the country," said David Covington, RI International president and CEO. "We're just starting to lean into providing the same for a psychiatric emergency and taking those seriously."
Covington is a leading national expert who's helped pioneer a strategy called "zero suicide." Studies show 80% of those who die by suicide saw a health care professional within the year before their deaths, offering crucial opportunities to intervene.
"No suicide is fated. None determined," Covington said. "We can make a huge difference if we're open to having the conversation and providing direct treatment."
More people struggling are seeking help. But the vast majority of patients are still getting routed to mental health care from the emergency room.
Covington said new models of care and an easier hotline are in the works.
"Let's say there's a 611, a hotline that anyone with a psychiatric emergency can call, and mobile services that would come to where you're at -- your home or your apartment -- as well as crisis facilities more like urgent care that we have that people can go into," Covington said.
Partnerships with all kinds of community entities are also key.
Local school districts are on the front lines of the fight.
Blue Valley Schools now train mental health professionals, school nurses and administrators on how to determine suicide risk.
"It's a life-saving difference, honestly, in many cases," said Emily Demo, school psychologist at Blue Valley Southwest High School. "We're able to figure out what's going on with the student, get them connected to the resources and support they need."
Social workers are part of the process. It's a team effort to provide hope and help.
"To be able to come together and partner, it's critical. It's what our kids need," said Amber Wesley, a Children's Mercy school-based social worker.
Experts say the biggest need moving forward is to continue expanding access and availability to specialized mental health care facilities across the region.
If you are having suicidal thoughts, we urge you to get help immediately.
Go to a hospital, call 911 or call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433).
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