Suicide prevention coalitions address a leading cause of death in Michigan

The 988 Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones. We can all help prevent suicide.
Suicide Prevention Coalition of Genesee County.
Across the state, more than 40 suicide prevention coalitions work to help Michiganders who are thinking about ending their lives. From the Macomb County Suicide Prevention Coalition in Southeast, Michigan to West End Suicide Prevention in Upper Peninsula Marquette County, suicide coalitions bring together the collective efforts of professionals and community members to reduce the risk of suicide — and with good reason.
In 2021, Michigan had more than 1,000 deaths caused by suicide. Suicide is also the second-leading cause of death for Michigan residents ages 15 to 34. Two effective examples of the work Michigan’s suicide prevention coalitions have done include the Suicide Prevention Coalition of Genesee County and the Ottawa County Suicide Prevention Coalition, which collaborates with the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan’s be nice. program.
West Michigan coalition advises: be nice.

be nice. works to decrease the number of suicides by educating its community about suicide warning signs, prevention strategies, and suicide prevention resources. The be nice. action plan uses the word "nice" to stand for notice, invite, challenge, and empower. Since 2010, the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan has brought the be nice. program to schools, businesses, athletic teams, houses of worship, and communities throughout Kent and Ottawa counties, across the state, and beyond. 
Christy Buck, executive director, Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan“People's mental health struggles can often go unrecognized when they’re in high school. When they get to the adult world at college or are trying to figure out their life, suddenly this huge group of 18 to 24-year-olds are going unrecognized,” Buck says. “That’s why we’re also moving into businesses where some of this age group is just starting off with their first job.”
In businesses, the be nice. action plan works to raise awareness about mental health. Some of the most influential factors impacting a business’ return on investment are absenteeism, work performance, attitude, and relationships — and those factors very much depend on employees’ mental health.
“People oftentimes don’t know where to go to get help and assistance,” Buck says. “We have noticed the suicide rate in Ottawa County has decreased. It is because of efforts like be nice.”
Buck notes that struggles with mental health often manifest in signs and symptoms that are easily noticeable. Warning signs of suicidal ideation can include mood changes, withdrawing from family or friends, engaging in risky activities, increased use of drugs or alcohol, and threatening self-harm or death by suicide. 
“When you’re able to recognize behaviors and get someone treatment before they end their life, it will inevitably reduce the rates of suicide,” Buck says. “By supporting and talking about mental health, we’re empowering people to instill protective factors into their lives.”
As an alternative to the 988 crisis help call line, be nice. invites anyone in crisis who needs immediate help to text "nice" to 741741. And Buck challenges every county in Michigan to create a suicide prevention coalition. 
“How you’re going to make a difference is by bringing people together as a community to collaborate,” she says. “We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We can enhance each other's programs.” 
 A Genesee County Suicide Prevention Coalition meeting.
Genesee County coalition has both a rural and urban focus
In Genesee County, 55 county residents die by suicide each year. To reduce these deaths, Genesee Health System (GHS) worked with area community organizations to launch the Genesee County Suicide Prevention Coalition.

Approximately 25 organizations take part in the coalition — K-12 schools, universities, law enforcement, businesses, hospitals, mental health organizations, media, and concerned citizens. The coalition meets monthly with the goal of providing community training and education, reducing stigma, and performing outreach to high-risk groups like veterans, youth, and older adults.

“Our main work is trying to get a really robust media campaign together so that people can know there’s a coalition in our community,” says Carrie Chanter, director of prevention, health, and wellness for the Coalition. “I believe there used to be a suicide prevention group, but it’s been over 10 years since something's been active in Genesee County.” 
Chanter notes that the increase in numbers of suicides have elevated it to a health crisis. The Coalition’s response includes two evidence-based trainings. QPR, (Question, Persuade, and Refer), is an online class on how to respond to someone in crisis. Livingworks Start, an online module, teaches people how to recognize signs that a person is considering suicide and connect them with help and support. 
The Coalition has also shared Hope Squad, a nationally recognized peer-to-peer youth suicide prevention curriculum, with middle and high schools. Currently, seven Genesee County school districts are involved in the program. In 2021, 34% of Genesee youth in ninth through 12th grade thought about suicide
The Coalition also focuses on other populations experiencing higher rates of death by suicide: veterans, those who identify as LGBTQ, men, and young African Americans.
“Sometimes the most at-risk populations are the hardest to reach,” Chanter says. “We’re trying to break down some of those walls.” 
 Approximately 25 organizations take part in the coalition, including K-12 schools, universities, law enforcement, businesses, hospitals, mental health organizations, media, and concerned citizens.
Jeremy Suttles, community engagement and partnership coordinator at Veteran Affairs Ann Arbor Health Care is one of the collaborators in the Coalition. He shares that veterans have a higher risk of suicide compared to the general public.
“When people serve and put on the uniform, they’re taught service to others above service to self,” Suttles says. “They also have significant stressors like exposure to trauma — combat or military sexual trauma — or issues related to relationships, like divorce.” 
The first year out of service is typically the highest risk of suicides for veterans.
“They’ve lost that sense of connection and purpose, which can be true for all people but especially veterans,” Suttles says. “In the county, 55% of suicides are with a firearm, and veterans have a tendency to use firearms when ending their lives. This is likely due to higher ownership rates of firearms among veterans compared to the general public.”

According to Veterans Affairs (VA), from 2016-2020, 882 veterans died by suicide in Michigan.
“When you lose someone to suicide, it affects the whole community, even if you didn’t know the person,” Chanter says. “There’s a ton of stigma when it comes to suicide. No one wants to talk about it, and that’s a problem. Suicide happens, and it’s complex. We want to have a suicide-safer community with no lives lost.” 
Genevieve Fox is an award-winning journalist from Detroit. Since graduating with a bachelor's degree in journalism from Michigan State University, she has built a solid background in environmental reporting and previous experience in radio broadcasting and photography at Great Lakes Echo and WKAR. When not working, she loves spending time outdoors and reading a good book. More by Genevieve Fox. 
Photos by Bryce Mata.
Photo of Christy Buck courtesy Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan. 

The MI Mental Health series highlights the opportunities that Michigan's children, teens, and adults of all ages have to find the mental health help they need, when and where they need it. It is made possible with funding from the Community Mental Health Association of MichiganCenter for Health and Research TransformationMental Health Foundation of West MichiganNorthern Lakes CMH AuthorityOnPointSanilac County CMHSt. Clair County CMHSummit Pointe, and Washtenaw County CMH.
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