TRAVERSE CITY – Janeen Wardie has said her son doesn’t want to die.
“He just wanted his pain to stop,” she said of Zechariah, who died by suicide at the age of 25 in 2015.
He hid the darkness of his severe depression, Wardie said, and since losing him she has tried to shed light on mental illness and suicide.
“Up to 80% of people who are considering suicide report their intentions, hoping for help, but we ignore or often miss or reject their messages,” she said. “We need to work to normalize conversations about mental health. “
Nationally, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death overall and the second leading cause for ages 10-34. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one death by suicide every 11 minutes.
The pandemic has increased that risk due to conditions of isolation and economic insecurity, and an increase in drug addiction and gun sales, said Stacey Kaminski, community mental health operations manager. Northern Lakes for crisis services in six counties in northern Michigan.
Statistics on suicide, however, are easier to find than conversations.
“There is a stigma associated with suicide that keeps people quiet,” Wardie said. “I’m not afraid to talk about it, I’m not ashamed to talk about it.”
Allison Zimpfer, a Child and Family Services contract worker from Traverse City, trains suicide social service workers and the general public in suicide awareness and prevention with a focus on principles of “question, partner / persuasion, referral” or QPR, to directly confront Someone.
“I want to dispel the myth that you have to be an expert to ask people if they are thinking about suicide and be able to respond,” she said.
“If a person sees themselves as a burden to others or experiences a lack of belonging, QPR sees them as warning signs that the person might consider committing suicide. Other signs include people getting their affairs in order or donating goods. Situational risks include access to guns, ”Zimpfer said.
There are things an ordinary citizen can do, she added.
“Risk asking someone if they are thinking about suicide,” she said. “Their safety is more important than our discomfort. And if anyone is ready to talk about it, open up a space to listen.
She urges the listener not to pass judgment, to avoid guilt or coercion.
“And it is important, where appropriate, to partner with others – relatives, friends, service providers – to make sure the person needs support.”
It is also important to offer resources, such as the National Suicide Helpline, Text Line, and the Northern Lakes Community Mental Health Crisis Line. If the situation is urgent, a hospital emergency room may be needed.
Crisis call volumes have tripled since the pandemic, Kaminski said.
“Every call is serious,” Kaminski said. “If it’s suicide, we’ll ask, ‘Do you have a plan? Have you thought about this in the past? Is anyone with you? Can someone bring you in? ‘ And we can also write a welfare check.
The organization wants to create a community crisis center to focus and support mental health issues. Now in its initial phase, the crisis center has two main purposes, according to Nancy Stevenson, director of the Northern Lakes Community Mental Health Crisis Center.
“First, we will be able to turn people away from the hospital or prison and second, our clinicians will do initial assessments that will open people up to services as needed,” Stevenson said.
She stressed that the center will serve individuals throughout their lives.
“Several sources of funding will be needed,” she said.
Currently, Stevenson is collecting feedback from community stakeholders, including social services, law enforcement, courts, hospitals, mental health organizations and many more.
“The crisis center is an essential service and I am delighted to see it set up. “
Meanwhile, Kaminski keeps the NLCMH crisis line available 24/7 reminding that suicide affects all populations, regardless of age, gender, education and profession.
“People who call are asking for help and we will respond in person if needed. It is an honor to help them through one of the worst times of their lives.
Priscilla Payne is having her worst times, having lost two daughters to suicide.
“I think talking about this helps me and helps others,” she said. “If I stay in the tragedy, I don’t help anyone. I want to be visible as a survivor.
When her daughter Jody took her own life at the age of 26, Payne said, “It came out of the blue. We were broken. The whole community was.
Looking back, she can see signals that were missed.
“When she didn’t come home for Christmas it was a red flag. And she drank a lot.
A second daughter, Jenny, died at the age of 37.
“She got involved with a cult in California when she was 19,” Payne said. “The indoctrination and abuse she suffered was very damaging, but she felt it was an opportunity to serve God. After eight years, she tried to move beyond that experience, but didn’t. never really did and has struggled with depression for a long time.
Payne survived these devastating losses with his faith, family, friends, and his own resilience.
“I believe that everything is one,” she said, “My daughters and I are always very close.”
And she refused to be a victim.
“The pain doesn’t go away but I feel more compassion for others like Jenny who are in pain.”
Because mental illness often plays a role in suicide, Judy Barrett of the National Alliance on Mental Illness – Grand Traverse, is proactive in education, advocacy and support.
“Twenty percent of human brains are affected by mental illness, ranging from depression and anxiety to schizophrenia,” Barrett said. NAMI-GT offers weekly support groups for adults living with mental illness.
A New Educational Initiative NAMI-GT is a suicide prevention program for schools and churches called “Ending the Silence”. Doctors and professionals create the curriculum.
“We have to teach children to recognize mental illness,” Barrett said. “We are also working with emergency care workers to improve communication with people with mental illness. “
Rick Coates, NAMI-GT Board Member, suffered from anxiety disorders most of his life and eventually found help through medication and talking to others who understand mental illness .
“Hiding doesn’t help,” he said. “People enter treatment through relationships. “
Military veterans are also vulnerable to suicide, and when national research showed that 22 veterans committed suicide each day, an organization was formed called “22 2 None”.
“We started in 2016 with a few veterans together,” said Ray McDaniel, president of the Northern Michigan nonprofit. “It helps because we speak the same language. “
When Veterans leave active service, they often lack a sense of purpose and may need help dealing with trauma.
“They ask, what is my mission now? McDaniel said. “The military says it clearly every day. “
Local 22 2 None group created a mission for themselves when they purchased the former South Boardman Primary School, which they are converting into transitional housing and outreach center. They also organize weekly “Morals, Well-Being, Recreation” meetings, he said.
Mathew Cooke’s college fraternity, Big Brother Julian, was a veteran of the Navy. Julian had shared stories about the trauma he experienced while deployed overseas, but Cooke didn’t see it as a sign of distress until Julian committed suicide in 2010.
“I didn’t know how to handle it,” Cooke said. “He seemed to be the strongest person in the world.”
Four years later, Cooke lost a second fraternity brother to suicide. He understood the situation a little better and, instead of trying to escape the pain through alcohol, began attending suicide awareness walks and counseling.
“I have learned how many people are affected by suicide,” he said, “and how useful it is to talk about it”.
Cooke moved to Traverse City several years ago and in 2018 became involved with an organization called “Hope Lives in Northern Michigan”, created by Wardie to honor her son, Zech.
“We support local nonprofit organizations that work in the areas of mental health and suicide awareness, prevention, intervention and grief support,” said Wardie. “We attend events, talk to people, share resources. This work shines the light of Zech.
When a person loses a loved one to suicide, the bereavement is complicated and prolonged as survivors are left with many questions, such as “why did this happen?” And “what did I miss?”
Michael’s Place in Traverse City has a Suicide Suicide Support Group, led by Samantha Comai, who brings her own experience to the circle.
“I lost my father to suicide in 2006,” she said. “It was the life of the party, so we weren’t expecting that. “
In the group, her goal is to create a safe and comfortable space to engage.
“People can participate as much or as little as they want,” she said.
Melissa Fournier, Bereavement and Loss Private Practice Advisor, confirms the complexity of grieving after a death by suicide. Well-meaning people can offer “premature solace” to the bereaved by saying, “it’s not your fault”. But what people really need is to be accompanied in the dark places of guilt and grief, without judgment, Fournier said.
“The path to healing and wholeness comes with self-mercy. “
Enough pity for the loved one who has passed away and for those left behind.
If you would like to speak to someone, please call the National Suicide Hotline at 800-273-8255; text line (741741); and the Northern Lakes Community Mental Health Crisis Line at 833-295-0616.