‘Facing Suicide: Town Hall’ tackles issue
MARQUETTE — How do you bring up the concept of suicide to someone in trouble? And how do you follow up once the immediate crisis has passed?
Those were some of the topics examined during “Facing Suicide: Town Hall” on Tuesday in the Northern Center at Northern Michigan University.
WNMU-TV producer Mike Settles moderated the town hall, which included these expert panelists:
≤ Kristine Martens, youth services coordinator and applied suicide intervention skills training trainer, Dial Help, Houghton;
≤ Christy Hartline, licensed clinical psychologist, NMU Counseling and Consultation Services;
≤ Philip Hefner-Gardiepy, training coordinator and Recipient Right adviser, Northpointe Behavioral Healthcare Systems, Iron/Dickinson/Menominee counties;
≤ Sarah Rymkos, Project Aware service provider, Delta-Schoolcraft Intermediate School District, Escanaba;
≤ Abigail Wyche, special adviser, NMU Mental Health and Wellness; and
≤ Renee Johnson, behavioral health services coordinator, Bay Mills Indian Community.
NMU President Kerri Schuiling called the event “a difficult conversation” for the NMU campus and Upper Peninsula communities, but acknowledged it is important to destigmatize mental health issues and be “intentional” in people’s support for one another. Additionally, NMU is pushing forward making needed changes to current services.
She also pointed out that the community needs more people trained in how to help people suffering from mental health issues.
Tuesday’s town hall, Schuiling said, was part of a discussion to change troubled individuals’ beliefs that suicide is the only option.
“Tonight’s event provides us as a community to have a ‘big picture’ discussion about the services our community needs and to come up with creative ideas about how to address those needs as well as discuss how we, collectively, can leverage our current services,” she said.
Settles said the documentary “Facing Suicide” provided some sobering statistics.
“Suicide rates in the United States have been on the rise since 1999,” Settles said. “About 47,000 people per year die by suicide, and that’s well over 100 people per day. More people die by suicide than car accidents. Suicide kills twice as many people as homicide.
“Each year, some 15 million Americans think about taking their lives. Fortunately, many of those 15 million individuals are pulled back from the brink by someone who steps in to help.”
The Upper Peninsula is no exception.
“We’re not that different than the national average,” Martens said.
Youth also is an issue.
“We’re seeing lots and lots of younger adults,” Gardiepy said. “Unfortunately, in Dickinson County a number of years ago, from May 29 to Oct. 1, there were nine attempts, and eight completions, all men between the ages of 15 to 17, and it rocked the community,” Gardiepy said. “We ended up having public forums, meeting people. We were meeting teenagers in one part of town and parents in the other part of town as we’re trying to come together and come together as a community to help people understand what this is about, because no one wanted to talk about the word ‘suicide.’
“We need to break that stigma and raise the literacy about it.”
Clips of the “Facing Suicide” documentary were shown during the town hall.
One clip addressed the issue of an individual asking a person about whom they’re concerned whether suicide is being contemplated.
“Asking straight up if they’re having those thoughts is the best way to proceed,” Hartline said.
Rymkos recommends people build relationships with young adults to better understand them.
This, she said, involves having open conversations about how they’re feeling, validating their feelings and just sitting in their space and listening to them.
“You need to connect with the youth on some sort of level,” Rymkos said.
Wyche talked about the college-age crowd.
“It feels really awkward to ask those questions, and for college students, awkwardness is a really big deal,” Wyche said. “But what’s paramount is the safety of your friends, and being willing to move through that awkwardness and ask the questions — that you can have a conversation and so that you can listen and provide support and know whether or not there needs to be further steps taken — far outweighs that feeling of awkwardness.”
Hartline has used the direct approach many times, she said.
“If you don’t feel like you know the person that well yet, you haven’t connected, you can even say, ‘You know, I know that we don’t know each other that well yet, but I have noticed that you seem to be a little bit different lately, and I just find myself wondering, ‘How are you feeling? Are you doing OK? Does it ever get so bad that you wish that you were dead?'” Hartline said. “You could approach it that way.”
Johnson said another sign for dealing with kids involves their peers.
“If you notice that they’re pulling back from their peers, or maybe they’re having issues with peers, just check in with them,” she said.
Johnson noted that if parents have a difficult time broaching the subject, they can reach out to a school or a crisis center where staff can ask the needed questions.
Settles asked what follow-up is needed after a suicidal impulse has passed.
Martens suggested that the individual helping the troubled person call a crisis line or 988 so a safety plan can be developed.
“The fact that this documentary is happening and we are all getting an education about what we can do is very hopeful to me,” Wyche said.
WNMU-TV will show “Facing Suicide” at 9:30 p.m. Monday.
Rymkos encourages communities to continue the discussion about dealing with suicide.
“The more that we continue talking about it, it’s going to create that safety within that environment,” Rymkos said.
Christie Mastric can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.