The Warm Handoff

The Warm Handoff

Therapists’ Expanding Role in Healthcare

By Chris Lyford

March/April 2020

The cover image of the 82-page booklet may have looked celebratory—silhouettes of two strapping mountain climbers high-fiving in front of a golden sunset—but inside, the message was blunt and serious: “Please do not delay,” read the introductory letter. “This should not sit in your in-basket or on the shelf for even a minute. Take the first step to saving lives as soon as you possibly can.”

Enclosed was a suicide prevention toolkit written in 2017 by four Colorado mental health workers at the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education. Their target audience? Primary care physicians.

The letter continued: “Whether for an adolescent struggling with a life crisis, a war veteran suffering from PTSD or traumatic brain injury, a middle-aged worker with depression and alcohol dependence, or a lonely elder, your practice can soon have systems in place that will allow you to intervene effectively without significantly disrupting the flow of patients.”

That last part might puzzle some readers. Shouldn’t assessing and treating suicidality be left to mental health professionals? After all, they’re specifically trained to deal with this sort of thing, right?

Well, not entirely. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly 68 percent of adults with a serious mental illness have one or more chronic physical conditions. Left untreated, they’re likelier to…

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