Suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in the state of Arkansas and the 12th leading cause of death in the United States. The National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention estimates that for every person who dies by suicide, there are another 316 people who have seriously thought about suicide but haven’t attempted it, and nearly 60 people who have survived a suicide attempt. While any death is tragic, the good news is that these numbers mean there’s potential to intervene, and where messages of care can have a profound effect and prevent suicide from happening. At Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield, a profound and compassionate suicide prevention strategy known as “Caring Contacts” is quietly making a significant impact for Arkansas Blue Cross members.
It’s personal for more people than we realize. David Jacobson, VP executive lead of the behavioral health team at Arkansas Blue Cross, has a personal connection with the effects of suicide. “I have personally experienced it with a close family member who took their life and encourage everyone to reach out to talk about it before it’s too late.” In early 2023, Arkansas Blue Cross began looking into claims data involving suicide attempts or suicidal ideation. What we have learned is that in a given month, there are approximately 160 members who have considered taking their life. Focusing on these people and providing hope when they are most vulnerable is what the Caring Contacts program is all about.
What is Caring Contacts?
Jerome Motto, MD is credited with starting Caring Contacts in the 1970s after serving in World War II and receiving letters from a pen pal. Even though he didn’t know this pen pal very well, the letters were a source of comfort during war. When he returned to the United States and was practicing as a psychiatrist, he was interested in understanding if the simple act of showing care with no strings attached would make suicidal patients feel less isolated. He set up a randomized control trial where his team tested his theory. The group who received letters of care saw a significant decline in the number of suicides. Since Dr. Motto’s initial study, Caring Contacts has successfully reduced suicide ideation, attempts, hospitalization and deaths.
The Caring Contacts program at Arkansas Blue Cross involves sending notecards to individuals who have been suicidal that include brief non-demanding messages of care and concern, forging a lifeline of support. It operates on a simple but powerful principle – human connection and empathy can be a lifesaver. Ashley Beegle, licensed clinical social worker and a case manager on the behavioral health team, has been sending care cards to members since March of 2023. “The cards are sent each month over the course of a year. This gives our members something to look forward to with no action required on their part.”
Why Caring Contacts matter.
One of the strengths of Caring Contacts is its continuity of care. Unlike some one-time or short-term interventions, the program provides ongoing support. Delany Kirkendoll, RN, who worked in an inpatient psychiatric facility prior to joining Arkansas Blue Cross says that, “Struggling with suicide can be very lonely and is something most struggle to speak to others about. Sending these cards gives me peace of mind that the member knows someone is thinking of them. That they are not alone. I am always here for them, whether they need me now or in the future.” Human connection, especially with a case manager who initiates Caring Contacts can be a lifeline for individuals facing challenges.
Arkansas Blue Cross is constantly evaluating the program to learn more about member needs and how to improve the program to make it the most beneficial. As of September 2023, 90 members have started receiving cards from the behavioral health case management team, early data suggests that Caring Contacts is a beneficial program with a reduction in readmissions to the emergency room and inpatient facilities. But most importantly, this early data shows that the program is helping save lives.
“In the midst of their storm these cards can be an anchor of hope,” Ashley Beegle, LCSW.
What to do in a crisis.
If you are contemplating suicide or know someone in need of crisis support, call 9-8-8. You are not alone. There are people here to help.
If you are an Arkansas Blue Cross member and need help navigating behavioral health, call our case managers at 800-225-1891. Behavioral Health benefits are available to you and your dependents. To check benefits available, sign in to Blueprintportal.com and click on Behavioral Health.
For more information about behavioral health, visit mymindhelp.com.