Mental Health

published : 2023-10-19

Nebraska Hospital's 'Life-Saving' Notes Program Revolutionizes Suicide Prevention

Program emphasizes encouraging, handwritten notes to support mental health

Teenager holding a handwritten note with words of encouragement, taken with a Nikon D850

A hospital in Nebraska is making groundbreaking strides in suicide prevention through a unique program that matches teenage suicide survivors with a 'caring contact.' The program, known as Caring Contacts, provides follow-up care to these young patients in the form of handwritten, personalized notes.

Directed by Sabrina Schalley, the program aims to normalize the struggles and challenges of mental health. Inspired by a similar program for adult survivors of suicide, Caring Contacts connects teenage survivors with the social worker they initially met on the night of their attempt.

The notes are sent to the teens at regular intervals after their discharge, with an opportunity for them to write back as well. These handwritten messages provide encouragement and support, serving as reminders that someone cares about them.

The hospital, known as Children's Nebraska, began implementing the program in May 2020, unknowingly coinciding with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic and its subsequent impact on children's mental health. According to Schalley, depression and anxiety rates have skyrocketed in children and teens since the pandemic began.

Close-up of a social worker writing a personalized note, taken with a Canon EOS R6

Approximately 30% of patients aged 11 and above at Children's Nebraska are screening at risk for depression and suicide. However, since the introduction of Caring Contacts, the hospital has seen remarkable results. Only 7% of participants have returned for an additional suicide attempt, significantly lower than the national average of 27%.

The success of Caring Contacts stems from various factors, including the program's ability to normalize mental health struggles and stress the importance of ongoing treatment. The handwritten notes offer positive coping skills and words of encouragement, while maintaining a positive and trusting relationship between the teens and social workers.

The impact of the program goes beyond the young patients themselves. The staff members who write the notes have found immense value in the program, receiving feedback and updates from the teens they support. The heartfelt responses received from families show the profound impact these notes have on their well-being and hope for the future.

Children's Nebraska is committed to sharing the effectiveness of the Caring Contacts program with other hospitals and organizations. With a replication kit already available and presentations made at conferences, the hospital hopes that this groundbreaking initiative will be implemented across the nation.

Group of teenage friends reading their encouraging notes together, taken with a Sony A7 III

In a world dominated by technology, the power of handwritten words from a caring adult stands out and makes a difference. These personalized notes, treasured by the patients, serve as constant reminders of their worth and provide a lifeline during their mental health journey.

The Caring Contacts program at Children's Nebraska is revolutionizing suicide prevention and paving the way for a brighter, more compassionate future.