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Michigan could see a 32% increase in suicides following COVID-19 crisis

scrabble tiles that spell out mental health

A community mental health provider in Michigan says the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic could result in a behavioral health crisis.

Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services, a psychiatric hospital and behavioral mental health provider in Grand Rapids, published a report that studied past pandemics including the 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome – or SARS – outbreak in Asia.

According to the research and conclusions in the report, Pine Rest is predicting the suicide rate in Michigan could go up 32% in a year.

Evonne Edwards, Clinical Director of Outpatient and Recovery Services with Pine Rest, is one of the co-authors of the report. Edwards says she noticed the risk factors for suicide increase once the COVID-19 crisis began to hit Michigan.

“This is things like physical health problems, social isolation, lack of access to coping skills that involve going out in public, and even increased substance use,” Edwards said.

Edwards says it’s these factors mixed with the economic fallout from the pandemic that could make for an increase in a lot of mental health issues across the state.

The report says calls to national suicide hotlines have increased an average of 47%, with some crisis lines experiencing a 300% increase in calls. One hotline in southeast Michigan has seen a 35% increase in crisis calls.

Edwards says there is a silver lining, however. These rates are only speculation and are subject to change is state and local leaders act now. Edwards says one place to start is improving our behavioral healthcare infrastructure.

“Even going into this pandemic, there’s not enough behavioral health care provider capacity, especially in certain parts of our state like the Upper Peninsula and northern parts of the Lower Peninsula,” she said.

The report recommends increased funding for behavioral and mental health providers, increased suicide prevention training for staff at these facilities, and a continued investment in telehealth services.

“Being able to give therapy sessions and prevention care through telehealth services would help a lot of people going through social isolation right now,” Edwards said.

Other actions the report recommends include temporarily waiving behavioral health co-pays and deductibles, increasing the general public's awareness about these mental health services, and encouraging the public to seek help before mental health issues or substance abuse gets worse.

“The point of this report is to sound the warning, to say unless we act, all these factors are pointing to a rise in suicides, a rise in behavioral health issues, a rise in substance abuse disorders,” Edwards said.

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Bryce Huffman was Michigan Radio’s West Michigan Reporter and host of Same Same Different. He is currently a reporter for Bridge Detroit.
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