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Governor’s suicide prevention commission makes recommendations

Michigan’s Suicide Prevention Commission published its first full report, recommending steps that the authors said would decrease the number of suicide attempts and deaths in the state.

“We must act now,” Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive, wrote. “The preventable nature of suicide makes Michigan’s current suicide rates unacceptable.”In 2019, the most recent year for which the commission said there was complete data, almost 1,500 people died by suicide in Michigan, and the rate of death had increased 28% in the previous decade.

Commission co-chair Brian Ahmedani, who also directs research into behavioral health services at Henry Ford Health System, said the last 20 years of research have fundamentally changed the way people in his field view suicide prevention.

The prevailing wisdom was that asking people about suicide could spark ideas of self-harm that they didn’t previously have, he said.

“One of the things that we’ve struggled with for so long is that we’re scared to ask people. We’re scared to ask people how they’re doing. We’re scared to ask them directly if they’ve been having thoughts of suicide,” said Ahmedani.

Now, he said, research shows the opposite effect: talking openly about suicide removes the stigma from the subject and alleviates feelings of isolation and hopelessness.

The commission recommended state funding for training for people like educators, hospital workers and doctors who are in positions to spot warning signs of suicide.

That will help spread knowledge about what works, he said.

“For the first time, we actually have interventions that are effective and that can help prevent suicide. It doesn’t mean everybody has access to all those interventions. It doesn’t mean that they’re available in all regions. It doesn’t mean that everybody even knows about them,” said Ahmedani.

The recommendations are particularly important now, the commission wrote, because of the toll of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“A wide range of public survey results have shown substantial increases in symptoms of anxiety and depression associated with COVID-19,” they said. “The unfolding of the current ... pandemic has caused unprecedented medical, social, and economic upheaval.”

The national suicide prevention hotline is available 24 hours a day at 800-273-8255.

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