2018-06-17 / Insight

Lapeer group strives to reduce suicides

BY PHIL FOLEY
810-452-2616 • pfoley@mihomepaper.com


Betsy Felton, who co-chairs Lapeer County Suicide Prevention Network; Allie Scholtis, Injury Prevention Coordinator at McLaren Lapeer Region; and Lapeer Police Dept. Chief Dave Frisch discuss the Network’s efforts to lower Lapeer County’s suicide rate. They all agree it’s important to talk and listen to people. “If you ask, they will tell you,” Felton observed. People can get help by calling the county Suicide Prevention Line 810-667-5204 
Photo by Phil Foley Betsy Felton, who co-chairs Lapeer County Suicide Prevention Network; Allie Scholtis, Injury Prevention Coordinator at McLaren Lapeer Region; and Lapeer Police Dept. Chief Dave Frisch discuss the Network’s efforts to lower Lapeer County’s suicide rate. They all agree it’s important to talk and listen to people. “If you ask, they will tell you,” Felton observed. People can get help by calling the county Suicide Prevention Line 810-667-5204 Photo by Phil Foley LAPEER COUNTY — Hardly a day goes by where somewhere in the county a police officer isn’t confronted with a suicidal person or the aftermath of someone who was successful. In just the first 13 days of June, the Lapeer County Sheriff’s Dept. alone responded to slightly more than two suicide-related calls a day.

Last week two men took their lives by self-inflicted gunshots in Burnside and Deerfield townships, while on Wednesday in Lapeer two suicides occurred — one by a woman who hanged herself in a hotel room and the other when a man stepped in front of a freight train at the Lapeer Train Depot.

According to a report recently released by the Centers for Disease Control, suicide rates jumped 25.4 percent nationwide between 1999 and 2016. Only Nevada, where the suicide rate dipped 10 percent, saw an improvement. The results varied as much as a slight 5.9-percent increase in Delaware to a 57.6-percent surge in North Dakota.

Michigan saw its suicide rate jump by 32.9-percent during that time period.

The Lapeer County Suicide Prevention Network, a small group of devoted professionals, is working hard to reverse that trend.

Friday patrons at Lapeer Cinema taking in “Jurassic World” will see the first big screen airing of the Lapeer County Suicide Prevention Network’s first 30-second commercial. The commercial, which is set to play 52 weeks over the next two years at Lapeer Cinema, is already playing on the network’s Facebook page.

“Success... Money. They seemed to have everything...But appearances can be deceiving. If you listen... they will tell you... Don’t be afraid to ask. You are not alone. Listen. Ask; Don’t let your story end,” the announcer intones as images of Heath Ledger, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Williams, Chester Bennington, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain scroll by.

Pointing to the two latest celebrities to die by suicide —Spade and Bourdain — Betsy Felton, director of patient care services at McLaren Lapeer Region, noted “Seemingly they had everything, right? They had success, money, they had it all. They had everything they ever wanted,” but it doesn’t mean there wasn’t something else going on in their lives.

Felton, who co-chairs Lapeer County Suicide Prevention Network with Tim Campbell, counselor and owner of the Life Resource Center in Lapeer, said, “We have to look at our community and the people that we live with, work with and our friends and co-workers…and sometimes you have to look beyond the smile, right, because people all have different burdens that they always don’t share.”

The network, formed in 2011, has been working on a variety of ways to reach people. Along with the Lapeer Cinema commercial, Allie Scholtis, whose day job is Injury Prevention Coordinator at McLaren Lapeer Region, has been working on a sticker to go on the doors of bathroom stalls and a table topper for places like doctors’ offices. Scholtis has also built the Network a Facebook page and an Instagram account — LCintothelight.

The network has also put up billboards along the county’s main highways.

Felton said the Network is trying to reach as many people in as many ways as possible.

Thursday the group will be showing “Project 22,” a documentary focusing on suicide among veterans which takes its name from a VA study that found 22 veterans take their lives each day. The film will play at 6 p.m. and pizza will be served. They’re asking people for a $5 donation.

“We have everything that a big city has, you just have to sometimes look for it a little bit deeper,” said Lapeer Police Dept. Chief Dave Frisch, who’s been a member of the Network for two years. “That’s what this group is, to make it so you don’t have go and look for it. We’re going to present it and make it accessible.”

One of the barriers to suicide prevention is the stigma attached to the subject. “It’s the same old lie, over and over again. Be quiet, don’t talk about it,” Campbell said.

Looking at people like Ernest Hemingway and Hunter S. Thompson, who took their own lives, Campbell said, “I still think if they’d had a good friend that came along like my brother and I fishing last night, man there’s nothing like that. Somebody to share things with. Where do guys go? Where to guys go to share stuff, the bar?”

“If you listen, they will tell you,” Felton observed.

“Depression,” she said, “is normal. It is a normal thing. They say that people will got through seven major depressions in their lifetime, so if you don’t have coping skills, if you don’t have someone that you can talk to or feel that anybody cares about you, that’s tough.”

To a certain extent, Felton said, social media exacerbates that.

Campbell agreed, “Social media promotes that everything should be hunky-dory and if it isn’t than what’s the use? Everybody portrays everything as being just wonderful and rosy in their world and if you think my life is not that great, you just feel isolated that much more.”

Both Campbell and Felton say people need to do more direct, face-to-face communication.

Campbell noted suicide has far reaching effects. He runs a support group for people affected by suicide and often hears people say, “I guess I wasn’t important enough for my husband or I wasn’t important enough for my dad.”

Felton said the people left behind “are never the same.”

Sometimes, said Felton, all it takes to prevent a suicide is to ask.

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