Sports medicine program screens young athletes for suicide risk

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OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — A sports medicine program in the metro is doing more than focusing on young athletes’ physical injuries. It’s also getting a glimpse into their minds in hopes of preventing suicide. With parents’ permission, teen patients are screened for suicide risk.

Carson Reeves gets his height and weight checked at Children’s Mercy’s Sports Medicine Clinic. Then something entirely different is measured.

“They asked me and my daughter to leave the room so they could talk to Carson individually,” said his mother, Cheryl Reeves.

“It caught me off-guard. It was a little intense. It went from like happy thoughts to…” said Carson.

He and other patients are asked questions about suicide including, “In the past few weeks, have you wished you were dead?”. The new screening is done by the nurse or athletic trainer.

If any answer is yes, “We get social work involved immediately,” said Dr. Jay Roberson, a sports medicine specialist.

He said the department turned to a psychiatrist to develop the screening after one young patient died by suicide.

“It really kinda hit us really hard. It wasn’t something we were expecting in any way,” said Dr. Roberson.

It’s something you might not expect with young athletes. Research shows they’re just as likely to have mental health problems but less likely to seek help than non-athletes. Carson can see how that happens.

“You want to be tough and like show that you’re a good sport and things like that,” he said.

The doctor says young athletes have many stressors including limited time for themselves and worries that they’re letting others down if they’re injured or not performing well. He said the screening has identified young athletes at risk.

“Not kids that I, in any way, suspected would have any concerns or any thoughts of suicide. But they do. Until we ask those questions, we just didn’t know,” Dr. Roberson said.

Just this summer, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that doctors routinely screen all teen patients. Some are. Children’s Mercy is believed to be one of the first sports medicine programs anywhere to do it.

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