Preventing Suicide: It Is Time to Mobilize the Physical Therapy Workforce

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Abstract

Each year, approximately 700,000 people, including 46,000 Americans, die by suicide; however, many more people experience suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Historically, the prevention of suicide has largely been the domain of mental health professionals working within specialist mental health care settings. An issue with this approach is that many individuals who experience suicidal ideation never disclose these thoughts to a mental health professional. The nonprofessional and paraprofessional mental health movement aims to bring suicide prevention to the people who need it, rather than wait for them to seek help. The nonprofessional and paraprofessional mental health movement does so by upskilling people who are not recognized as mental health professionals but may have contact with people experiencing suicidal thoughts and behaviors. In this Perspective, we argue that physical therapists are well-positioned to engage in suicide prevention. For example, physical therapists working in pain management are likely to frequently encounter clients experiencing suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Physical therapy is also viewed as a physical health profession, meaning that they may have contact with a broad range of populations at high risk of suicide who may be difficult to reach through traditional channels (e.g., men from rural communities). Physical therapists will require training on how to provide crisis support, including how to link clients with appropriate mental health services. However, given the size of the physical therapy workforce globally, the impact of mobilizing the physical therapy workforce could be significant.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberpzad116
JournalPhysical Therapy
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 25 Aug 2023

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