Grants spur suicide prevention plans
By JEFFREY JOE PE-AGUIRRE
Capital News Service
LANSING – A bad economy can be a killer. Literally.
For the past 10 years, economics professor Wei-Chiao Huang of Western
Michigan University has studied links between economic trends and suicide rates.
“After comparing data across countries and regions for many years, the gist of my
findings is that unemployment and poverty contribute to an increase in suicide rates,”
said Huang, who tracked trends in the U.S. as well as Japan, Hungary and Taiwan.
He also discovered that some people commit suicide after careful thought.
“Some people do it impulsively, but for others it’s a rational decision in the sense
that they go through a cost-benefit analysis in their mind,” Huang said. “If at the end of
that analysis, they find that it is not worthwhile to go on living, they commit suicide.
“The good thing is that because it’s a conscious decision, it’s preventable. The
challenge is showing people that there’s a silver lining. There will be another day. There
are other options.”
Pat Smith, violence prevention coordinator for the Department of Community
Health, wants to make sure that people at high risk of committing suicide know those
Data compiled by the department shows that from 2001 to 2005, there were 5,357
suicides in Michigan.
Nationwide, more than 31,000 people try to kill themselves, and emergency
rooms treat more than 425,000 people for self-inflicted injuries every year, based on
estimates of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Community Health Department has received a $1.2 million grant from the
federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to run a three-year
prevention program for 10-to-24-year-olds.
The grant will fund programs for local communities and Native American tribes
and information campaigns for out-of-school, collage-aged youths.
“Suicide rates in Native American communities are higher than the rest of the
population,” Smith said. “There are already a lot of initiatives in universities to prevent
suicide, so we need to serve a forgotten segment – collage-age youth who are not enrolled
in any university.”
She added that the grant will also be used to train “gatekeepers” – people who
interact with youths who are at higher risk of committing suicide such as school
personnel, counselors, the clergy, people in emergency medical services, firefighters or
The Community Health Department is soliciting requests for proposals until
January from groups that want funding.
Janet Jones, collaboration coordinator of Strong Families and Safe Children, said
the grants would allow counties to coordinate and consolidate suicide prevention efforts
of multiple government agencies and non-profit groups.
Her Kalamazoo-based collaborative has representatives from the county health,
mental health and human services offices, law enforcement agencies, the family court
system and suicide prevention advocates, Jones said.
“We finished our countywide suicide prevention plan in May, and whether or not
we get funding, we will be implementing our plans,” Jones said. “But if we get funds
from this grant next year, that will be a very big help in speeding up the implementation
of our youth programs.”
Jones, who worked as a psychologist in Kansas, Virginia, Missouri and Toronto
for 20 years before moving to Michigan, added that more money is needed for programs
targeted at the elderly population.
“Ideally, support systems must be a fine-meshed net that can catch and save all
potential suicide victims,” she said. “Society tends to blame those who are emotionally
frail with comments like ‘Oh, just get over it’ or ‘Pull yourself together.’ What we need is
sympathy and empathy to remove the stigma associated with getting professional help.”
For Huang, no economic model can quantify the loss of lives through suicide.
“When one person disappears, we have lost more than just one potentially
productive member of society, Huang said. “Even a single death is a tremendous,
irreversible loss that has a ripple effect.
“Suicide leaves the victim’s family, friends and relatives with trauma and despair.
How much is that worth?”