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How Caring Contacts at Sunnybrook can help patients after a crisis

Written by Jennifer Palisoc

“You might feel alone out there, however there are opportunities to find encouraging words in recovery.”

“You are a truly valuable person.”

Messages of support and encouragement after a time of crisis.

They’re part of an initiative called Caring Contacts, a series of emails sent to patients after they leave Sunnybrook’s Psychiatric Inpatient Unit.

“The aim is to remind patients that they’re not alone, provide them with messages of hope, and help to reduce suicidal ideation after psychiatric hospitalization,” says Dr. Rosalie Steinberg, psychiatrist. “In addition to positive messages, the Caring Contacts emails include mental health resources, such as information to crisis services which individuals can access when they are feeling distressed.”

The Caring Contacts emails have been recently implemented as part of patient care by the Department of Psychiatry at Sunnybrook. Patients can opt-out of receiving the messages at any time.

“To our knowledge Sunnybrook is the only hospital in Canada that has studied this intervention in a clinical trial and the only hospital that has included a Caring Contact email series in the standard of care for all patients who have been discharged from the Psychiatric Inpatient Unit,” says Sarah Holman, Caring Contacts research coordinator. “Other programs across the country have used different types of communications such as phone calls or letters for specific patients.”

“Caring Contacts are an evidence-based support. This means that past research has shown that it can be an effective suicide prevention strategy,” adds Dr. Steinberg.

The timing of the Caring Contacts emails is important. The first message is sent several days after a patient leaves the hospital and follow-up messages continue for about eight weeks. Experts say this is typically when mental health symptoms could worsen as a patient adjusts to being back at home.

“The risk of suicide is highest after psychiatric hospitalization,” explains Dr. Steinberg. “Psychiatric follow-up and support can help reduce this risk. The timing of the Caring Contacts emails can help remind individuals that they’re being supported in their recovery while they wait for follow-up care. These messages are shared at critical times which can help lead to better outcomes for patients.”

“Previous studies have found that Caring Contacts can help reduce suicide attempts, suicidal ideation, and loneliness, while increasing hopefulness and feelings of connection. The feedback we’ve received from patients has been positive. Common themes include feeling cared for and more connected to Sunnybrook,” says Sarah.

Suicide prevention at Sunnybrook

Caring Contacts are among a variety of support tools developed by Sunnybrook’s Department of Psychiatry in collaboration with its Patient and Family Advisory Council for suicide prevention.

Coping Cards can help patients develop an action plan when coping with emotional distress. They are available in 10 languages.

The department has also recently created a booklet with information and resources for family and friends after a loved one has attempted suicide.

“Implementing innovative and evidence-based models of care for suicide prevention in clinical settings is fulfilling work. Having Caring Contacts accessible to all Sunnybrook psychiatric patients is exciting and meaningful when we hear many say they feel supported by us even after they leave the hospital.”

If you need help in an emergency, please call 911 or visit your local emergency department.

If you’re feeling like you’re in crisis or need somebody to talk to, please know that help is also available through community resources:

Other resources:

How a Coping Card can help manage emotional distress: https://health.sunnybrook.ca/mental-health/how-a-coping-card-can-help-manage-emotional-distress/

Supporting families after a loved one’s suicide attempt: https://health.sunnybrook.ca/mental-health/supporting-families-after-a-suicide-attempt/

About the author

Jennifer Palisoc

Jennifer Palisoc is a Communications Advisor at Sunnybrook.

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