Brightside Health Unveils New Program To Battle Suicide Epidemic

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Every day in the U.S., 130 people die by suicide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Over a year, 12 million people consider suicide, 3.2 million make a plan and 1.2 million attempt suicide. Yet, many mental health companies don’t treat severe mental illness.

“Not only is it hard to get care, but it’s hard to find providers who are open to taking that kind of patient and trained in that kind of care,” said Brad Kittredge, CEO and co-founder of Brightside Health, in an interview. “The impact or the byproduct of that gap in the market has been more people dying by suicide, as well as more emergency room visits, more inpatient hospitalizations.”

Brightside Health, a digital mental health company, is trying to fill this gap. The San Francisco-based startup introduced a new program Monday called Crisis Care, which is specifically designed to treat those who are actively considering suicide, have had a recent suicide attempt or are in need of follow up care after a hospitalization.

Brightside has a network of clinicians in all 50 states, but Crisis Care is currently available in 27 states and will be rolling out to new states on a weekly basis, Kittredge said. The company covers 60 million lives through Cigna, Aetna, UnitedHealthcare, Anthem of California, TPAs Allegiance and Meritain. It also has referral partnerships with provider groups and health systems. Those in need of Crisis Care’s services can enroll directly or through a referral with a provider. Existing Brightside patients can also be enrolled by their clinician if it’s determined they need crisis support. At this time, Crisis Care is only available through insurance, but the company’s other services can be paid both with or without insurance.

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Crisis Care relies on a framework called Collaborative Assessment and Management of Suicidality (CAMS), an assessment and treatment of a patient’s suicidal risk. Those in need of the program’s services begin with an intake process to get matched with a clinician. They’ll then have an appointment within 48 hours and subsequent weekly sessions, all virtually. If needed, users can have more frequent sessions. In between those meetings, users also have online check-ins, messaging and 24/7 call support.

Each session includes an assessment to determine the patient’s suicide risk. Once patients are considered to not be at risk for three sessions in a row, they can move into the organization’s standard therapy program, Kittredge said. What’s different between Crisis Care and the standard program is that Crisis Care is solely focused on de-escalating the person’s suicidal ideation, whereas the standard program is based on treating the patient’s condition overall.

“If somebody has this active suicide risk, that’s the main thing you need to solve right now,” Kittredge said. “The CAMS protocol in Crisis Care is specifically focused on reducing that suicidal ideation and the likelihood that someone’s going to follow through and act on that … As soon as you de-escalate that, you can move back to the standard therapy program.”

There are several metrics Brightside plans to follow to track the success of Crisis Care, Kittredge stated. Number one is timeliness of care and ensuring each patient is able to get an appointment within 48 hours. In addition, the company plans to track patient engagement and Crisis Care’s ability to keep people in the program, as well as patient outcomes.

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Brightside has already proven to be effective in treating patients with severe mental health symptoms and passive suicidal ideation, which refers to having vague thoughts of suicide versus having tangible plans. A peer-reviewed study published in JMIR Formative Research found that Brightside’s patients were 4.3 times more likely to experience remission of suicidal ideation than the control group, and 77% were able to eliminate their suicidal ideation within 12 weeks. It was from these findings that the company decided to create Crisis Care so it can lean into those at elevated suicide risk, or those who are making tangible plans, Kittredge said.

“Simply put, our goal is to save lives,” he stressed. “Our goal first and foremost is to stop these suicides from happening, save those lives and have a big impact on those individuals and their families.”

Other digital mental health companies include Brave Health and Valera Health.

Picture: Benjavisa, Getty Images

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