Spinal Column: We must tackle the alarming increase in suicide

By Sen. Jim Runestad
15th Senate District

Suicide is a national epidemic, and according to data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last year, Michigan’s suicide rate is significantly higher than the national average. In fact, Michigan’s suicide rate increased by an astounding 33% in the last ten years.

Many of the facts surrounding suicide are rather alarming. You may be surprised to learn that half the people who die by suicide have no known mental health condition. In addition, intentional drug overdoses only account for 10% of all suicides. Finally, in Michigan there are more deaths by suicide each year than traffic and gun deaths combined.

These facts challenge a lot of our assumptions about suicides. That most people who die by suicide have no known mental health condition or drug addiction is not the story we often associate with hopelessness and suicide attempts. Many of those who die by suicide are reliable workers, parents, and seniors with no known mental illness.

This realization, along with Michigan’s significant uptick in suicide rates over the last decade, underlines the need to thoroughly research causes and the demographics of those who attempt suicide in our own state.

There is numerous data we need to gather to turn things around. That is why I introduced Senate Bill 228. This bill will create a commission to study the causes and underlying factors of suicide in Michigan, bringing together state resources to compile data and develop a statewide action plan.

Under the bill, the commission would serve without compensation and would work with state departments, agencies and nonprofit organizations to study the causes and possible underlying factors of suicide in Michigan. The study would focus on demographics, showing the highest suicide rates in the state in the prior decade and the highest growth in suicide rates.

The commission would provide recommendations for state coordination on suicide prevention data collection and a coordinated state approach to the prevention of suicide. By Jan. 1, 2020, the commission would prepare and present a preliminary report of its findings and recommendations to the Legislature. By June 1, 2021, the commission would prepare an updated report and recommendations. And when the commission’s work is complete, the commission would be abolished by 2026.

Suicide — the second leading cause of death among 10- to 34-year-olds nationally — is a public health crisis. And rates in Michigan show alarming trends of suicides in working families. Since there currently is no coordinated effort in the state to understand the risk factors, underlying causes and changing trends in suicide across demographics, we need a commission to get to the root causes of the crisis.

My office has received much support for SB 228, including phone calls and emails to push for this commission to be enacted before the end of the year. We have overwhelming support and enthusiasm to tackle this crisis in a statewide, all-hands-on-deck approach.

Support has been communicated from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the Michigan Veterans Facility Ombudsman, law enforcement organizations, the Michigan Corrections Organization, psychologists, numerous health care providers, and school organizations, including Michigan’s School-Community Health Alliance.

I can’t overstate how important this issue is to me personally. Establishing this commission through timely passage of this legislation is essential to changing Michigan. Bringing everyone together in the state can turn Michigan’s statistics into a success story. Our state can be one of those listed with dropping rates in the future if we pool our resources and work together.

Suicide Lifeline: If you or someone you know may be struggling with suicidal thoughts, you can call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) any time of day or night or chat online.

This column appeared in the May 15 edition of the Spinal Column newsweekly. State Sen. Jim Runestad, R-White Lake, represents Michigan’s 15th District.