2017-07-30 / Insight

Four dead in three days

‘Rash’ of local suicides prompts warnings
BY ANDREW DIETDERICH
810-452-2609 •

LAPEER — Four suicides over a three-day period last weekend have law enforcement and mental health officials urging people to be on the lookout for signs of potentially suicidal subjects.

Lapeer County Sheriff’s Dept. Undersheriff Jeremy Howe said the county “has had a rash of suicides” consistent with an increasing number of emergency calls related to suicide or threats of suicide being handled by local emergency responders.

In the last 90 days, road patrol deputies with the department have responded to more than 40 attempted/ threatened suicide calls, Howe said.

Concurrently, the Lapeer County Jail has had about 70 inmates that have needed some form of mental health treatment for becoming suicidal or having a history of suicide attempts, he added.

In Lapeer County so far in 2017, there have been nine deaths resulting from suicide, including the four from the last week.

“People getting arrested and disclosing at a booking that they are/ have been suicidal has increased dramatically over recent months and the road patrol has responded to numerous attempts,” Howe told The County Press.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death overall in Michigan.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for those between the ages of 15-34, the third leading cause of death for those ages 10-14, and the fourth leading cause of death for those aged 35-54.

The nonprofit reports that on average, one person dies by suicide almost every six hours in the Michigan.

In 2015 (the most recent data available), firearms were the most common method of death by suicide, accounting for about half of all suicides. The next most common methods used were suffocation (including hanging) at about 27 percent and poisoning at about 15 percent.

In Lapeer County, there were 14 suicides in 2015, and 15 suicides in 2016.

Beth Boyd, law enforcement liaison for Lapeer County Community Health and chair of the Lapeer County Suicide Prevention Network, said that most individuals who die by suicide in Lapeer County are men between the ages of 35-65.

“Substance abuse, job loss, divorce or health concerns are oftentimes contributing factors,” Boyd said. “It’s difficult for people to reach out when they feel overwhelmed and lack hope for the future.”

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness — Michigan (NAMI), it’s important to identify suicide warnings signs such as:

• Threats or comments about killing themselves, also known as suicidal ideation that can begin with seemingly harmless thoughts like “I wish I wasn’t here” but can become more overt and dangerous. Regardless of intensity, all comments should be taken seriously.

• Increased alcohol and drug use.

• Aggressive behavior. A person who’s feeling suicidal may experience higher levels of aggression and rage than they are used to. They may take these feelings out on the people around them.

• Social withdrawal from friends, family and the community.

• Dramatic mood swings indicate that your loved one is not feeling stable and may feel suicidal.

• Preoccupation with talking, writing or thinking about death.

• Impulsive or reckless behavior.

• Loss of interest in pleasurable activities.

• Not tolerating praise or rewards

Further, NAMI suggests the following are signs a person is getting close to acting on suicidal ideation:

They are putting their affairs in order and giving away their possessions.

They are saying goodbye to friends and family.

Their mood shifts from despair to calm.

They start planning, possibly by looking around to buy, steal or borrow the tools they need to commit suicide such as a firearm or prescription medication.

Boyd said it’s important to “always take an individual seriously when they disclose they are having suicidal thoughts.”

“Sometimes people have thoughts of suicide without ever having any intent to kill themselves,” Boyd said. “I encourage you to be with the person, hear them out and if you are uncomfortable in any way, to seek additional help.”

Boyd said people can call CMH 24/7 at 810-667-0500 or walk in between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. People in emergency situations should always call 911.

Howe, who also is a member of the Suicide Prevention Network, said the Lapeer County Sheriff’s Dept. “has been very proactive with the trends in law enforcement as it relates to mental health.”

“The deputies have been trained in mental health first aid, which has given them the tool to help recognize someone in crisis, and also de-escalating techniques, which is very critical to what we are faced with on a daily basis,” Howe said.

Howe pointed to how jail inmates are handled as an example of the ways the department deals with potentially suicidal subjects. Specifically, he said, jail inmates are handled one of three ways:

• If someone is actively suicidal, precautions are immediately taken. The inmate is placed into a gown, he/she is given direct supervision, and the Community Mental Health 24-hour is contacted immediately.

• If an inmate reports past attempts or is thinking about attempting to commit suicide again, Community Mental Health is contacted immediately for assessment and the protocol for precautions are taken.

• If the inmate has reported attempted suicide in the past but is not currently thinking about suicide, CMH is contacted. CMH usually responds or makes contact before the inmate is released to perform follow-up.

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