Albion’s Suicide Prevention Coalition begins its work

 

By MICHELLE MUELLER

Contributing Writer

©The Recorder January 16, 2020

In October 2019, a trio of Albion non-profit groups – the Albion Community Leadership and Engagement Council (ACLEC), Harry Bonner Sr. of Substance Abuse Prevention Services, and the Albion Chapter NAACP – partnered with Dr. Barbara Keyes of Albion College to bring Albion native Valarie Cunningham, MSW, LMSW, back to town to deliver a lecture called “Breaking the Stigma of African-American Mental Health” on campus. She shared with her audience the statistic that African-American adults are twenty percent less likely to report serious psychological distress than adult whites, and that the percentage increases with African-Americans living in poverty. That higher incidence, Cunningham explained was due to post-traumatic stress on the African-American population caused by this country’s Black History experiences.

Tragically, just three weeks later, Albion College student Zachary Wilson deliberately stopped in front of an Amtrak train to end his life, a too-close-to-home tragedy that traumatized the entire Albion community and shone a light on the need to address suicide prevention.

Now those same local leadership entities have partnered further with the local Communities That Care Task Force (led by Maurice Barry and Bonner), mental health professionals from Summit Pointe, and The Coordinating Council of Calhoun County to form an official “Suicide Prevention Coalition,” which convened its first meeting on January 8, 2020, at the Ludington Center in Albion. Dozens – representing a wide spectrum of professionals working in public health and mental health, education, law enforcement and criminal justice, local government, senior services, and the NAACP – participated in the meeting.

Facilitators were Jeannie Goodrich, CEO of Summit Pointe, local volunteers Nidia Wolf and Allen Henson of the ACLEC, and Harry Bonner. “We need a selective collective to address suicide prevention in our community,” Bonner explained.

www.micalhoun.org site displayed what the data they presently have reveals: Those ages 45-59 are at the highest rate of suicide

Nicole DuPont, operations lead for The Coordinating Council, walked the audience through the Calhoun County health data website which was projected on a screen in the front of the crowded meeting room. The micalhoun.org site displayed what the data they presently have reveals: Those ages 45-59 are at the highest rate of suicide, with firearms being the highest method of choice, behind hanging. She explained that the data rates by race are currently being analyzed.


“Right now, suicide prevention and the opioid epidemic are the most important areas of our data. If we didn’t have data showing an increase in suicides, we’d think we were doing okay,”


“Right now, suicide prevention and the opioid epidemic are the most important areas of our data. If we didn’t have data showing an increase in suicides, we’d think we were doing okay,” Goodrich stated. “But because we’ve got an uptick in the suicide data, we are making it a priority.”

The groups got on their feet, and spending a mere 45 seconds at each of four poster stations representing four areas of suicide prevention services – Prevention, Crisis, Treatment, and Bereavement/Support – an appointed scribe quickly noted everyone’s input.

Next, Goodrich divided the group into four teams for a “Suicide Prevention Inventory Exercise.” The groups got on their feet, and spending a mere 45 seconds at each of four poster stations representing four areas of suicide prevention services – Prevention, Crisis, Treatment, and Bereavement/Support – an appointed scribe quickly noted everyone’s input, with the groups then rotating after the compact time allotted for each of the three input collection phases.

The resulting suggestion sheets 1) collected input from each member of all four groups on known mental health services, 2) identified challenges to mental health care access, and 3) assessed the gaps and suggested additions.

“Today’s work will inform us,” Goodrich explained, “and by the end of February the data from today will be assessed and distributed to members of this coalition.”

Gary Tompkins, Calhoun County Commissioner 7th District, holds a marker while writing his ideas on the whiteboard, while Harry Bonner and Nidia Wolf watch.

Harry Bonner told the group that the resulting report would be presented across the county and, in Albion, to the mayor and city council, the public schools district and Marshall Academy, and Albion College. “That’s so we can have a collective approach to suicide prevention rather than individual agencies having to address it. The goal is to affect those data points to bring the suicide rate to zero.”

Several more immediate prevention initiatives were announced by audience members which should contribute to reduce the devastating effects of each and every suicide attempt or completion:

First, Albion Department of Public Safety Chief Scott Kipp announced that seven of the department’s officers are trained in Mental Health First Aid, which means that well over the recommended 25 percent of Albion’s officers have completed the course. The training program teaches how to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders. The 8-hour course introduces participants to risk factors and warning signs of mental health concerns, builds understanding of their impact and provides an overview of common treatments.


“We get two to three calls per week to 911 – and that doesn’t include calls that are made to suicide help lines,” Kipp explained. “There’s a lot going on in Albion that people just don’t know about.


“We get two to three calls per week to 911 – and that doesn’t include calls that are made to suicide help lines,” Kipp explained. “There’s a lot going on in Albion that people just don’t know about.

In that same vein, the audience was told that the State of Michigan, as part of their suicide prevention campaign, is expecting to roll out a new suicide hotline that will only be four numbers long.

A third, more grassroots initiative,  a mental health information fair, will be hosted by Albion’s Macedonia Baptist Missionary Church, located at 1010 Chauncy Street, on Saturday, January 26. Michigan State University Extension representative and local VISTA coordinator, Marquetta Frost, explained that there would be more detailed information about the event coming.


“This is how you start to reduce the stigma of suicide – by having conversations,


“This is how you start to reduce the stigma of suicide – by having conversations,” explained Goodrich in her meeting wrap-up. “This meeting was another great example of collaboration in the Greater Albion Area.

A dynamic system of collecting information from rotating teams of coalition members was employed at the recent meeting to give them a starting point on their work towards their goal: bringing the Albion and Calhoun County-wide suicide rate down to zero. (Photo by Michelle Mueller)

Any discussions related to suicide and mental health are complex and can be painful as we all know someone in our life that has experienced mental health disorders firsthand. Removing stigma from this topic only happens through conversations like we had at that meeting. We also reviewed data, but at the end we have to remember that the numbers that we discussed are our community members, our neighbors and sometimes our family members. This was the first step to reduce stigma and make systemic changes that ensure timely access to mental health services when needed by anyone in the community. Summit Pointe looks forward to the continued discussions related to this topic in the Greater Albion Area.”

 


 

Michelle Mueller

Michelle Mueller

Michelle is the author of the book Mr. Bonner, that was released in 2019.   She has written for The Recorder, the Albion College Io Triumphe magazine, and she is an enthusiastic scrapbooker in her spare time.  See more articles by Michelle Mueller here: www.albionmich.net/writer-mueller/


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