PLYMOUTH, Mich. — After two years of decline, the CDC says suicide rates are on the rise across the country. That's according to the most recent data from 2021.
Mental health leaders in Michigan hope to save lives and spread awareness at a conference this month near Detroit.
"When I was around age 14, [I] started having persistent, intrusive thoughts of suicide," Scott Teichmer, an attempt survivor, says.
He kept his chronic suicidal thoughts and aborted attempts a secret for years, ultimately boiling over when he was 24.
"Thankfully, somebody saw something. I was rescued by first responders and I've had a long road since then," he says.
Now, Teichmer is helping others who struggle like he did, working in suicide prevention in Calhoun County and leading an online video series to reach even more people.
"As somebody who has survived a suicide attempt, again, there can be a lot of shame that comes along with that. So, talking about that not only helps me to be able to talk about it, it also can help people who might be struggling by hearing, 'I'm not alone, other people have gone through similar things,'" he says.
That's the mission of Kevin's Song, Michigan's largest conference on suicide prevention and awareness.
"We need to change the culture, we need to remove the stigma," Leo Nouhan, conference coordinator, says. "Let people start talking about it, and and try to make a difference in people's lives."
The three-day event covers different topics, from the 988 rollout to presentations from attempt survivors.
"It's a real diverse grouping of people from all walks of life, who have this one common interest, and that is to save lives and to prevent suicide," Nouhan says.
One of the speakers next weekend is Jody Sprague with Corewell Health. She's leading a presentation on the healthcare system's Blue Envelope program with more than 30 districts in West Michigan.
"The program is specifically for those moments in time when a student expresses that they have suicidal thoughts," Sprague says.
The method is to take safe steps with a student, which includes staying with the student, accessing help, feeling out their emotions and eliminating any risk.
"We found that it was really, really helpful if we train everyone. So, a bus driver can overhear kiddos talking or a coach on the field can hear this, they can overhear this, or they that might be their favorite adult person to share something with them. So, they will tell that person, so everyone is prepared on how to respond," Sprague says.
Teichmer adds that one key prevention technique is lethal means safety, putting as much time and distance between that person and anything potentially dangerous in a time of crisis.
"If that person is able to make it through that time period, which again, is usually fairly short, if they're able to make it through that time period, they're still here with us," he says. "For the vast majority people there that face a suicide crisis, if they're just able to wake up the next day, that level of risk of acting on those suicidal thoughts are drastically diminished."
Nouhan says scholarships are available to attend the conference, and people can inquire with him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"I wouldn't want anybody not to attend because of the cost," he says.
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