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Opinion: We must combat Michigan's suicide epidemic

Jim Runestad

A heartbreaking epidemic occurring in our state has taken thousands of lives.

While not caused by a virus, it has been worsened by it. And considering how difficult this year has been for so many, it is more important than ever that we do something about this tragedy.

I am referring to our suicide epidemic. A mental health center in Michigan published a report that predicts a real crisis as a result of the aftershocks of the coronavirus. The report by Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services predicts a potential 15% to 32% increase in statewide suicide rates.

September is National Suicide Prevention Month, a time to raise awareness about suicide prevention, reduce stigma around the topic and encourage those in need to use available resources.

The suicide epidemic in Michigan started long before the coronavirus, Runestad writes.

Thankfully, there are many resources in place to help provide mental health support. A list of crisis phone lines, text lines, mental health providers and more can be found at Michigan.gov/coronavirus. And the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline offers help 24/7, by calling 1-800-273-8255. Making a few commonsense changes to our governor’s lockdown orders could also prevent suicides and save lives.

But the suicide epidemic in Michigan started long before the coronavirus. And it will continue long after the virus leaves us — unless we do something about it.

As the second leading cause of death among 10- to 34-year-olds nationally, suicide has been an ongoing public health crisis everywhere. But Michigan’s suicide rate is even higher than the national average. And according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, our state’s suicide rate has increased by 32.9% from 1999 to 2016.

But it’s more than just the rising statistics — it’s the devastating impact each suicide has on a family in our community. Nearly everyone has been touched by this epidemic in some way, and it’s vital we do all we can now to make a difference.

That’s why I worked for years to create a suicide prevention commission that will study the causes of suicide, pull together meaningful data, and come up with an evidence-based plan to tackle this epidemic head on. The commission is made up of unpaid experts, activists and individuals who are volunteering their time to collect data on the crisis, analyze disparities in suicides, and then ultimately prepare and present reports on evidence-based, successful programs for suicide prevention.

I’m grateful that after years of working on this bill, the Legislature passed it overwhelmingly and the governor signed it into law this spring. And I’m also grateful the commission was created when it was: Their work is needed now more than ever. I am hopeful the commission will get to the root causes of suicide in Michigan and recommend concrete solutions to this growing epidemic.

Because at the end of the day, it’s about so much more than just the numbers. It’s about real-life families and the real-life consequences of suicide. And it’s about our chance to make a real difference for folks in need.

Take a moment to check in on people in your life — those who may feel isolated and who may need a friend — not just during this National Suicide Prevention Month, but every month.

State Sen. Jim Runestad, R-White Lake, represents Michigan’s 15th District.