State releases harrowing 2020 suicide data, recommends increased emotional support

By Allison Donahue, Michigan Advance

Provisional data shows there were 1,282 suicide deaths in Michigan in 2020, according to a report by the Michigan Suicide Prevention Commission. 

Compared to 2019, which had 1,471 suicides in Michigan, that number is lower, but the commission expects the 2020 data to increase as more suicide reports are finalized. 

“In Michigan, anyone who needs help should be able to get it,” said Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who appointed the commission in March 2020. “This task force will do critical work to collect data, expand resources, and implement best practices so we can save lives. We must work together to reduce suicide rates in Michigan and make sure that everyone knows that it’s OK to not be OK and help is always here.”

The commission, a part of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), released the report Monday and included recommendations on how to reduce the suicide rate.

The recommendations are to minimize the risk for suicidal behavior by promoting safe environments, resiliency and connectedness, increase and expand access to care to support Michiganders who are at-risk, improve suicide prevention training and education, implement best practices in suicide prevention for health care systems and enhance suicide-specific data collection and systems.

The emotional impact of the pandemic, worsened by grief, social-isolation, financial stress and anxiety has been cause for concern that there will be an increase of suicide rates.

Last month, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) released a study that found from 2019 to 2020 there was a 5.6% decrease in suicide rates nationally. 

The state has taken some steps to address mental health issues that could be worsened by the pandemic, including providing mental health and substance use services, as well as emotional support resources. 

According to the commission’s report, more research is still needed to understand the possible long-term effects of the pandemic on mental health, prevention methods and who is at greater risk of suicide.

“Suicide is preventable, and Michigan’s current suicide rates are unacceptable,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and MDHHS chief deputy director for health. 

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in Michigan and in 2017 more than four times as many people died by suicide in Michigan than by alcohol-related motor vehicle accidents.

“Through our plans and intentional actions, we can provide the help and resources necessary to save lives. Together, we can make Michigan a model state for suicide prevention, and a place where everyone gets the help they need, when they need it,” Khaldun said.

Anyone who needs help can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at 1-800-273-8255 or 1-800-273-TALK. Press 1 for the Veterans Crisis Line. Anyone under age 21 can ask to talk to a peer at Teen Link, 1-866-833-6546.

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