2018-06-17 / Insight

Mental health officials:

Don’t ignore warning signs
810-452-2601 • npugliese@mihomepaper.com

If concerned, say something

Editor’s note: The County Press elected to dedicate today’s INSIGHT reporting to the troubling issue of suicide in today’s society. The recent deaths by suicide of high-profile celebrities Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain had increased discussion about suicide in the media, while a string of recent suicides by Lapeer County residents compelled us to talk to local officials to provide insight into help available in our community for citizens who may be depressed or have lost their will to live.

If you or a loved one is experiencing thoughts of suicide, walk-in help is available at Lapeer County CMH Monday through Friday 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. The public is also welcome to call the McLaren Lapeer Region Hope Line at 810-667-5611 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) 24-hours a day, seven days a week.

stop suicide stop suicide LAPEER — Don’t ignore the signs. That’s the message of local mental health professionals and law enforcement, and it’s an important one.

But that’s easier said than done. The stigma attached to mental health and illness often holds people back from openly discussing issues that can be affecting the quality of life and even life itself of loved ones. That’s where Lapeer County Community Mental Health (CMH) comes in, with a free, public monthly training called Mental Health First Aid.

Suicide, and the causes leading up to a person choosing to take his or her own life, does not happen in a vacuum, said CMH CEO Lauren Emmons. The signs are there, we just have to learn to recognize them. “Essentially we’re teaching what’s like first aid — what to do if you’re bleeding, or if you’d need to apply a tourniquet or do CPR, we’re teaching people some of the general signs and symptoms of a mental illness and how to recognize them, and that includes how to approach a person to try to assist them into getting help and certainly recognizing some of the signs and symptoms of a person who might be suicidal,” said Emmons of Mental Health First Aid. “Much like you’d approach the first aid of a physical issue but it approaches it from a mental health perspective in terms of a person’s psychological or emotional functioning.”

Mental Health First Aid training is an eight-hour course offered by CMH the third Thursday of each month at no charge, with the next scheduled course on June 19. All trainings are held at Lapeer County Community Mental Health on 1570 Suncrest Drive. The class isn’t unique to Lapeer — created in 2001 by a mental health nurse and a mental health literacy professor in Australia, the program has spread throughout the globe that has since trained 1 million people in the United States, including more than 27,000 in Michigan. “The class provides a quick overview and some basic skills so people have some tools in their toolbox to help them identify if someone is maybe not doing so well,” said Emmons. “This class trains people how to recognize some of those unspoken signals or overt behaviors.”

Increased training isn’t just useful for the public, either, said Lapeer County Undersheriff Jeremy Howe. Howe, who is a partner of of the Lapeer-based Suicide Prevention Network, said that local law enforcement frequently train to handle calls revolving around mental health issues, and that the line between law enforcement and social worker is increasingly blurred. “Guys and gals are trained, (when out on a mental health call) your mindset changes in a complete 180,” said Howe. “You’re a little bit more empathetic, you don’t want anyone to do anything bad. You’re on a call potentially to save someone’s life, to get them the help they need. You’re dealing with a human being you want to help.”

Howe estimated that his department responds to 20-25 mental health calls each week, which necessitates the continued training that officers receive. “Usually a person’s pretty wound up so you’re trying to de-escalate, let them know that you’re trying to help them,” said Howe. “The social worker aspect and the law enforcement aspect are so meshed these days, I think in the last five years they’ve increased dramatically, I really don’t know why.”

Emmons said that there’s a “cold reality” that when a person decides they want to take their own life, they don’t share that information, which makes reaching out to those whom may be suffering that much more difficult. “We try to educate families about some of those unspoken signs, or that a person might be having some sort of mental break or sliding into a depression,” he said. “The best intervention is to be mindful of what’s happening, provide support, be helpful and try to be a friend, and hope the person recognizes the need to seek treatment and to get help.”

Emmons said CMH’s Mental Health First Aid course is a good first step in the road to providing families with the ability to assess mental health issues before they become worse. “It’s difficult...when someone’s not in a good place, we don’t want to ignore it and say ‘eh, they’ll figure it out,’” said Emmons.

Help is out there, and readily available, said Howe, you just have to want to look for it. “There are people that want to help people, I don’t know how to push it out any more than we do,” he said. “A lot of it is impulse, a person snaps or they’re under the influence of something, but you hate to see it happen. You can’t rationalize it.”

The next Mental Health CMH course will be held June 19 at Lapeer County CMH from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The class is free and open to the general public. To contact CMH for more information, call 810-667-0500.

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