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Kaiser Permanente physician-scientist wins suicide prevention award

SEATTLE, May 2, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -- The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) has chosen Dr. Greg Simon, MD, MPH, to receive this year's Research Award at its Lifesavers Gala 2019. Dr. Simon is one of five people (including Anderson Cooper of CNN and CBS News) whom the AFSP will honor this year with national awards for various types of achievement, including public awareness. 

Dr. Simon is nationally recognized for his research showing that using a mental health questionnaire routinely in mental health and primary care can help identify people who are at increased risk for suicide attempt. Now standard practice is for all Kaiser Permanente Washington patients are routinely asked to answer this questionnaire at least yearly at primary care visits—and at every visit for mental health concerns.

When patients answer "yes" to a question about wanting to harm themselves, Kaiser Permanente Washington has a standard process for follow-up. This includes helping patients to develop personal safety plans and discussing safe storage of firearms and disposing of extra medications. This work has spread to some other Kaiser Permanente regions—and beyond, including other integrated health systems around the country.

"There is kind of a conspiracy of silence around suicidal thoughts, because it's an awkward thing to talk about," Dr. Simon says. "We've found that we just have to incorporate talking about it into our standard care."

"We want to prevent suicide, and to do so, we need to keep getting better at predicting it—even though unfortunately we may never be possible to predict every suicide," Dr. Simon says.

A psychiatrist at Kaiser Permanente, Dr. Simon is also a senior investigator at Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute, and a research professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington. And he leads the national Mental Health Research Network.

Recently, Dr. Simon and his colleagues have used machine-learning models to develop and test a more sophisticated—and accurate—way to predict risk of suicide, by combining mental health questionnaire responses with information from electronic health records, including prior suicide attempts and mental health and substance use diagnoses. "We're excited that Kaiser Permanente Washington plans to put this new research into practice soon," he says.

"This work is part of our iterative process of research and care continually influencing each other to improve our patients' health," Dr. Simon says. "Now we're conducting a large trial at Kaiser Permanente Washington to test two different outreach programs to prevent suicide attempt in people who are at high risk." 

This work complements Kaiser Permanente's ongoing efforts to emphasize the importance of mental health and wellness and its impact on total health: mind, body, and spirit in unison.

AFSP will officially give Dr. Simon the award in a ceremony on May 7 at New York's Lincoln Center.

About the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
Established in 1987, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) is a voluntary health organization that gives those affected by suicide a nationwide community empowered by research, education, and advocacy to take action against this leading cause of death. AFSP is dedicated to saving lives and bringing hope to those affected by suicide.  AFSP creates a culture that's smart about mental health by funding research, educating the public, advocacy for public policy, and supporting survivors of suicide loss. For more information, go to:

About Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute
Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute (KPWHRI) improves the health and health care of Kaiser Permanente members and the public. The Institute has conducted nonproprietary public-interest research on preventing, diagnosing, and treating major health problems since 1983. Government and private research grants provide our main funding. Follow KPWHRI research on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or YouTube. For more information, go to:

About Kaiser Permanente 
Kaiser Permanente is committed to helping shape the future of health care. We are recognized as one of America's leading health care providers and not-for-profit health plans. Founded in 1945, Kaiser Permanente has a mission to provide high-quality, affordable health care services and to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve. We currently serve more than 12.2 million members in eight states and the District of Columbia. Care for members and patients is focused on their total health and guided by their personal Permanente Medical Group physicians, specialists and team of caregivers. Our expert and caring medical teams are empowered and supported by industry-leading technology advances and tools for health promotion, disease prevention, state-of-the-art care delivery and world-class chronic disease management. Kaiser Permanente is dedicated to care innovations, clinical research, health education and the support of community health. For more information, go to:

Contact: Julie Popper -
(206) 448-2728


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SOURCE Kaiser Permanente