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Suicides in Michigan jumped 33% from 2000 to 2020

LANSING — Suicide rates in Michigan were on a constant increase until 2019 when the numbers started to decline.

In 2019, numbers dropped by 5%, then again last year by 13%.

But even with the decline, the numbers from 2020 still show a dramatic 33% increase from 2000.

Brian Ahmedani of Brighton, a co-chair of the state Suicide Prevention Commission, and a researcher for the Henry Ford Health System, said may of 2020’s events would have made people expect an increase in suicides because factors such as social isolation and unemployment normally increase the risk of suicide.

“Many of us were bracing for a potential increase,” he said.

The downward trend in 2019, following the smallest increase of suicides in 20 years in 2018, led Ahmedani to expect a lower rate in 2020, solely based on the trends from the previous two years.

Also, during times of great national tragedies such as the 9/11 terrorism attacks, there is usually a very low suicide rate, he said.

No one could have accurately predicted an increase or a decrease because there many factors pointing to both possibilities, he said.

But numbers alone don’t show the human impact of the issue.

In 2010, Corbin Standley lost his brother to suicide.

Now, Standley is a Ph.D. candidate in psychology at Michigan State University and chairs the board of directors of the Michigan chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Standley researches the intersection of race or ethnicity with sexual and gender identity and how people in minority groups might be at risk for suicide.

He found that people who identify with more than one minority group are more likely to be at risk of suicide.

The statewide drop in suicides in 2019 was almost completely among white Michigan residents under the age of 85.

The rates among ethnic minority groups and the elderly either remained stable or increased slightly in 2019, he said.

Standley is also on the Suicide Prevention Commission, created by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in 2019.

The commission’s newly released report outlines findings from the first two years of its work.

Ahmedani said the first part of the report uses data to explain suicide rates. That data includes the number of deaths, which groups of people are dying and what the contributing risk factors are.

For example, it found that middle-aged men account for the largest proportion of suicides, but attempts are more common among females.

The suicide rate grew the most for Black males by 72% from 2017 to 2018.

It also found that suicide rates are higher in rural areas.

The next part of the report is about prevention efforts, including learning more about different cultures, making information more accessible and open dialogue about suicide.

The increase over the past 20 years isn’t explained by a single factor, Ahmedani said.

There has been a cultural shift in the past 20 years that has expanded technology and social media, which can lead to loneliness that contributes to the risk of suicide.

That increase also runs parallel with the opioid epidemic.

There were more than 87,000 drug overdoses in the United States in the 12 months that ended last Sept. 30, the most since the 1990s, the National Center for Health Statistics reported this month.

Substance abuse also can increase the risk of suicide, he said.

Most people who commit suicide don’t die from overdoses of opioids, however. Instead, they die by firearms.

Lindsay Bornheimer, an assistant professor in the School of Social Work and Department of Psychiatry at the University of Michigan, said, statistically, there is a suicide attempt every 23 seconds in the United States, and a completed suicide every 11 minutes.

Michigan has 15 suicides for every 100,000 people, compared with the U.S. annual rate of 14.5.

Access to lethal means of death, such as a firearm, is a large factor that contributes to the possibility of a suicide attempt, she said.

In Michigan, two-thirds of firearms-related deaths are suicides, and more than half of suicides are committed with firearms, Bornheimer said.

A previous suicide attempt is the largest risk factor for another attempt, she said. After that comes a medical condition, particularly a chronic one, or mental illness.

She said more than half of people who kill themselves had a diagnosable mental illness.

There has also been an increase in diagnosed mental illnesses in the past year, she said, but that doesn’t necessarily mean more people are mentally ill.

While the higher rates could be because mental illness has become more prevalent, it could also be because people are more open about their mental illness now, she said.

Bornheimer said suicide is preventable and “it’s an area where we really need to place our efforts.”

Prevention can take place at multiple levels, she said. And the commission report supports that.

It can be individual through behavioral therapy and by learning coping mechanisms and problem-solving skills.

It can also be at the family and community level by increasing support and a sense of belonging.

It can be improved by increasing mental health screening and opportunities to be involved in the community through clubs and activities.

At a societal level, it can be prevented with policies and procedures that increase access to treatment and reduce access to lethal means of suicide.

Pat Smith, a Michigan suicide prevention coordinator in the Department of Health and Human Services, said most of the work in lowering the suicide rate is “upstream,” or preventative measures.

“It’s up to us, as a society, to make sure (mental health services) are being done,” she said. “The most important thing is that there is always hope.”

If you are in crisis, call 800-273-8255 or text “TALK” to 741741.

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