“Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death. The third for some children. It’s a public health issue.” April Foreman, PhD
Dr. April Foreman is not your average psychologist. She is an innovator and an extremely determined woman, especially when it comes to Veterans and social media. “I love serving Veterans in my role as Suicide Prevention Coordinator at my VA. Love innovating ways to give good care.”
That’s why she and her VA team went the extra mile to get her to a WiFi enabled Starbucks for a twitter chat. “I had to drive back from New Orleans and my government car wouldn’t start. My VA team knew about this chat and …helped me call the tow and get a new car in record time, so I could get to a place with WiFi! Many of the people I work with are Veterans…And they know how to work as a team!”
Foreman describes her job search which led to her employment this way, “At the VA, everyone I spoke with understood the value of connecting providers, patients and their health care system using personal technology and “’new media.’ In mental health care we understand it is the relationship that heals, and I knew that I needed to work in a place that understood the importance of life-long patient relationships. A place that would do anything, even brave the Web 2.0 frontier in health care, to do this.”
In the same post, Dr. Foreman states that she knew she wanted to be a psychologist since fourth grade. “Easing pain – even just a little bit – one person at a time has always been my personal mission,” she says.
Dr. Foreman uses social media to educate and inform. This is because social media is “where Veterans are,” she says. “Veterans operate by word of mouth. Social media is a natural extension of that.”
Dr. Foreman appeals to Veterans this way, “How do we build strong connections with you? Connections that might save your life or save the life of a Warrior you care about? There is me, there is you and woven around us there is this “system.” How do we build a bridge over it all and connect?”
She believes that technology is the answer. “We can use IT to reach out to people who feel suicidal. We no longer have to wait for them to call US.”
In fact, she points out that there are efforts occurring at this moment in social media. “Right now, Facebook users can tag concerning posts and get those posts reviewed by a national suicide prevention crisis center. We can also use smart phones to track mood, send data to Health Care Providers…maybe even predict changes in suicide risk.”
One of the difficulties Dr. Foreman faces in her efforts to use social media in psychology is provider attitudes. The “biggest challenges [to using social media in psychology] are attitudinal. FEAR, very irrational, mostly by providers and system administrators.”
Concerns about privacy is also a common response from providers. But according to Dr. Foreman, “Well, the knee jerk reaction [is] that all tech is a “HIPAA” violation, or unethical…but they can never say why. Fear about confidentiality, and fear about crisis/suicide risk. Fear about ‘boundaries’ and provider privacy. I also think many mental health providers tend towards being face-to-face and low tech. They feel uncomfortable with tech. Avoid it.”
Yet the benefits are great according to Dr. Foreman because she believes that psychologist could be “using technology to target risk-related content and bring crisis resources TO people in need.” Dr. Foreman also believes other providers need to become involved in social media and health 2.0. ““Primary Care Providers provide 80% of mental health care. Usually the last provider to see someone before suicide.”
“Humanistic providers have an obligation to use their social media presence in appropriate ways for patients.” There are reasons for Dr. Foreman’s vehemence. One moment of irrational sadness and a life is lost. It’s “very heartbreaking….Many people who die by suicide were not thinking rationally. A short, irrational, impulsive period. It is preventable. It’s why I do what I do.”
For those providers who are concerned about using social media, Dr. Foreman suggests putting together a social media policy and sticking by it. Dr. Foreman created a social media policy which include personal rules for friending and contact requests from current and former clients. These policies help to respect privacy of both client and therapist. She has published them on her website.
There are other benefits. “I also use socialmedia to network with a wider network of professionals. Bring knowlege to my patients. I’ve often helped patients use social media to connect to resources support during a therapy session.”
Another barrier to widespread use of social media technology in mental health is that “More providers need education about [social media]. And to be paid when we use it as legitimate intervention….Health Care System administrators need education on the way I can scale care by having patients use technology to monitor and share symptoms.”
“I’d like communications technology to allow me to send a suicide risk assessment to someone in crisis and have that data go right into a medical record, to be seen and tracked by all providers. Primary Care Providers, too. I’d like crisis care to be linked into your regular healthcare, so your provider can follow-up long-term,” Dr. Foreman proposes.
Clients that Dr. Foreman work with are Veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. “Many Iraq/Afghanistan Vets feel isolated from other peers their age. They have done and seen things they can’t discuss very often, [it's] hard to feel a part of civilian life. Many Iraq/Afghanistan Vets served in the National Guard. [They're] not part of continuous military community. Not really civillian though. Many of our newest Vets are having difficulty translating military experience into civillian jobs. [It's] very stressful.”
The Veterans Administration has put some important measures into place to serve these Vets. “The VA has preventive and supportive measures in place for the newest combat veterans, especially their feelings of isolation. The VA has special case managers that track Vets from these wars, keep them connected with services. VA and VetCenters also try to have support groups focused on our newest Vets.”
Social media is valuable to Veterans. “I find that they like knowing they can get support after they leave our session. Portable support amazing….Many kinds of support are a Twitter hashtag, Face Book page, google search away….” she relates.
Suicidal ideas can be associated with homicidal ideas. “Many times, when I see someone in crisis, they have conflict in their relationships, and want to hurt both self, and others,” Dr. Foreman states. Yet she clarifies that having ideas does not mean someone is making a plan. “Ideation can be normal….We are mostly born with an aversion to killing ourselves and others. Have to erode this to harm self or others.” It is only through watching or experiencing violence that people “acquire capability” to harm themselves or others.
One of the tools that Dr. Foreman has used in her practice is an app which allows clients to record their feelings on a daily basis. One reason why self-tracking, using apps, is helpful is because “pain/mood make it hard to accurately think back and self-report. Daily tracking is much better.” When the client self-tracks, the information can be used by the provider for prevention. “We can prevent suicide by lowering [the] lethal risk during [the] period of intense emotional pain when you can’t think straight… clear thinking [is] often derailed in crisis,” she states.
When someone starts talking about suicide, what should you do? Dr. Foreman says, “ I take that talk seriously, and am VERY glad to talk about it. To know and to help. Listen to the talk. Address immediate safety first. Get help and a consultation.” She also provided the link to the Nation Suicide Prevention Lifeline . She said, “Veterans who use our Veterans Crisis Line will get a follow-up call from a VA provider like me within 1 business day. “
One of Dr. Foreman’s desires is something that anyone reading this blog can do. Share the links to the National Suicide Prevention Life Line and the Veterans Crisis Line and keep the public discussion of suicide going. “Reach out!” she advocates.
Based on #HCHLITSS The Health Communication, Health Literacy and Social Sciences twitterchat.