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Training Nurses in Suicide Prevention

Analysis  |  By Carol Davis  
   September 27, 2023

Hackensack Meridian Health is training nurses systemwide to effectively evaluate young suicidal patients.

With New Jersey pediatric emergency room psychiatry consults dramatically increasing in 2022 over the previous year, Hackensack Meridian Health (HMH) has launched Adolescent Clinician Training for Suicide Prevention for Nurses (ACTS) for its nurses.

The initiative calls for training non-behavioral-health nurses to better assess, evaluate, and treat or refer young suicidal patients who come into the health system, with the initial phase serving as a baseline for the expanded training of thousands of HMH nurses by 2025.

The program is in response to troubling research:

  • Pediatric emergency room psychiatry consults increased between 20% and 49% from 2021 to 2022.
  • Adolescents accounted for a larger share of suicides across 14 states in 2020 than they did over the previous five years.
  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death for youth, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
  • 30% of high school girls had seriously considered suicide while 13% of them attempted it, says the CDC.
  • 45% of LGBTQ+ teen-agers had seriously considered suicide while 20% of them attempted it, says the CDC.

New Jersey is among five states that saw an increase in suicide deaths among adolescents during the pandemic, according to JAMA Pediatrics.

"The need for skills and knowledge in identifying and delivering a wider range of behavioral health disease identification and treatment strategies has never been greater," said Don Parker, president of Behavioral Healthcare Transformation at HMH.

"We are continuing to invest in our nursing staff throughout the network and are committed to making sure they have every tool available to help the growing ranks of behavioral health patients," Parker added.

With a $100,000 grant from the Morgan Stanley Alliance for Children's Mental Health, and a partnership with The Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide (SPTS), the initiative will train nurses across the HMH network by 2025.

"Hackensack Meridian Health is committed to addressing the growing behavioral health crisis, especially when it comes to our young people," said Robert C. Garrett, the health system’s CEO. "By expanding access to care, better coordinating treatment, and continuing to invest in our frontline teams, we will help more people find the path to recovery."

While many medical professionals say they feel ill-equipped to treat adolescents at risk for suicide, this project to train frontline nurses is life-saving, says Dawn Doherty, SPTS executive director.

"Our partnership with Hackensack Meridian Health is a crucial step in equipping non-behavioral health nurses with specialized suicide prevention training," Doherty said. "Together, we’re strengthening our commitment to youth mental health and saving lives."

Carol Davis is the Nursing Editor at HealthLeaders, an HCPro brand.


Pediatric emergency room psychiatry consults increased between 20% and 49% from 2021 to 2022.

The new initiative will train thousands of nurses across the HMH network by 2025.

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