An Alarming Trend in Kids—What Great Lakes Recovery Centers & We Can Do About It

Many call the U.P. “God’s Country,” and see it as a great place to raise kids. Good reasons for this abound, however, our kids have become increasingly endangered by a threat many of us may not easily see—suicide.

The most recent U.P. Community Needs Assessment reports that suicide related calls to Dial Help in the U.P. tripled between 2010 and 2017. The U.P’s suicide rate for 10 to 24 year olds was 14.2 per 100,000 residents, while the average for Michigan was 7.9. And stressors have only increased since then.

As Great Lakes Recovery Centers (GLRC) Foundation Coordinator Amy Poirier explains, “If someone’s having suicidal thoughts, it’s not one thing, one incident behind it. Multiple factors can be involved.”

“I see what’s happening with our kids,” Poirier continues. “They don’t know what life will be like from day to day. It’s hard for kids right now. Every day, kids are seeing their friends being quarantined or needing to be tested. What goes on in the minds of all those kids—is my name, my friend’s name, my teacher’s name going to be on that list? The stress that they’re going through right now is unbelievable. And that’s just COVID, that’s not even counting the everyday life stressors of a teenager.”

Poirier facilitates the West End Suicide Prevention coalition.

She is also very active in the Marquette County Suicide Prevention Alliance, is one of the Marquette County Suicide Prevention Walk coordinators, teaches suicide prevention courses, and works with social media and community outreach.

“We’re trying to break down the stigma around mental health,” describes Poirier. “Between one in 4 or 5 people are suffering from mental illness, yet there’s so much stigma, and no one wants to talk about it. Our goal is to open up the conversation, normalize it, help people realize ‘It’s not just me. There are also a lot of other people out there that are having this problem. We can get help, help one another, and get professional help too.’”

GLRC coordinates several of the U.P.’s Communities That Care evidence-based coalitions that work to reduce kids’ risk factors. Nearly all of these have a suicide prevention work group. The West End Suicide Prevention coalition, a diverse group of people on the west end of Marquette County, developed LIVE, a positive mental health campaign (Love yourself, Include others, Value life, Engage community) which was brought to the entire Upper Peninsula through a grant from the Superior Health Foundation.

GLRC helps coordinate and teach various suicide prevention courses throughout the U.P.

GLRC also works with many U.P. schools to help reduce the stigma around mental health issues, and on any suicide prevention activities the school might want to do. The LIVE Art & Word contest for high schoolers to support suicide awareness and prevention efforts was just completed on Nov. 15th. Seven cash prizes will be awarded, including a $500 grand prize. You can vote for your favorite visual art, word, and song entries at West End Suicide Prevention’s Facebook page.

GLRC also opened Child & Adolescent Psychiatric Services in Ispheming a couple of years ago to help address the unmet psychiatric needs of kids with mild to moderate mental health issues who don’t necessarily qualify for community mental health services. This includes Trauma Development Assessment to look at where a child’s development is at due to trauma they may have experienced, psychiatric evaluation, medication management, parent education, different types of therapies, and psychiatric consultations.

However, with an issue as pressing as children’s suicide prevention, support is needed across the community. Whether you’re a parent, grandparent, work with children, or not, below are some ways you can help.

Take part in a suicide prevention gatekeeper training course, such as:

Mental Health First Aid – An evidence-based, free eight-hour course for adults only. Instructors from GLRC and other agencies teach you a five-step process to help someone who’s having a crisis, whether it involves suicide, anxiety, depression, psychosis, eating disorders, or substance abuse. You can sign-up at GLRC.org/mhfa. Once enough people register, a course is organized.

QPR (Question Persuade Refer) – A one-hour course that can also be presented to adolescents (as young as 12) and adults. This course is often taught in schools. Parents can ask if their school has this program.

ASIST Training – Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training for anyone in the community. No prior training is required. DIAL HELP, a U.P. center that provides crisis support 24/7 by phone, text or chat, will hold the next one Nov. 18th and 19th in Hancock. Contact Krissy Martens at kmartens@dialhelp.org to register.

Promote the LIVE campaign – Put up a decal in the window of your home or business, keep informational cards on hand for someone who might need the national suicide hotline number. If they are local, the call goes straight to DIAL HELP. To receive these items, call the GLRC Foundation office at (906) 523-9688 or talk to any member of West End Suicide Prevention.
Support and be present at locally held events such as suicide prevention walks and Walk a Mile in Our Shoes.

Get involved in a community coalition. Almost every U.P. county has a suicide prevention-related group. Contact Amy Poirier at (906) 523-9688, apoirier@greatlakesrecovery.org for info on a coalition near you, or go to glrc.org/wesp to learn more about West End Suicide Prevention.

If you’re concerned your child or a child you know may be having suicidal thoughts or feelings, talk to the child. Get them the help they need, and help the child as well as their parent understand that they’re not alone.

Before you get to that point, if you have a kid or know anybody (child or adult), take one of the free suicide prevention courses.

You can also join a free and confidential parent support group–the Parents Support Network of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It meets for an hour and a half each month, currently virtually, and is peer-led by facilitators that have had experience with their own kids’ mental health concerns.

Note from the editor: We are very pleased to announce that Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine’s 2021 annual donation is going to Great Lakes Recovery Centers’ children’s suicide prevention and awareness efforts. For a list of businesses that have helped support this donation, click here.

Excerpted from the Winter 2021-22 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2021, Empowering Lightworks, LLC. All rights reserved.

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