Shadow of suicide touches many in Upper Peninsula

Every six hours, someone in Michigan takes their own life. That’s what statistics show for suicide rates in Michigan.

These figures are not to be taken lightly, considering suicide was noted as the 10th-leading cause of death among Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A story in The Mining Journal last week underscored the significance of this growing trend, citing studies from the CDC which found that men are four times more likely to die by suicide than women, and that males accounted for nearly four-fifths, or 79 percent, of all suicide deaths in the country.

But the CDC studies also discovered that suicide is more likely in rural areas than in urban ones.

The Upper Peninsula makes up roughly 3 percent of Michigan’s total population, but has around one-third of the state’s total land area, excluding territorial waters. In some places you can drive for miles without seeing another person, home or establishment of any kind.

The wide-open country of the U.P. is something many of us appreciate for its natural beauty and calm serenity, but the experts say that in rural areas there are also fewer suicide prevention resources available to people.

Ontonagon County was recognized by the CDC to have the second-highest suicide rate among Michigan counties, with Iron County rounding out the top five. None of the U.P.’s 15 counties made the top five list for lowest suicide rates.

The numbers are astonishing, and saddening, when you think of the many friends and family members who have been put through so much grief by losing the ones they’ve loved.

Part of the problem is availability of resources, and another part is the willingness of those suffering from suicidal thoughts to seek help for themselves.

Certainly, there’s a typical stereotype of men, and that includes us Yoopers, as being hardened to the point of possessing very few emotions, with an unwillingness to embrace or talk about their feelings.

“Men do not always recognize that they are experiencing a diagnosable mental illness such as depression or bipolar disorder,” Courtney Miner, program manager for Healthy Men Michigan, said in the Journal article. Male depression, among other things, is a risk factor for suicide, she said, and that goes undiagnosed 50 to 60 percent of the time.

To us that means the aforementioned suicide rate is higher than it should be, and people’s lives can be saved. But there’s still a stigma around seeking help for suicidal feelings, and it’s higher among men than women. “Gender socialization, including traditionally masculine stereotypes, also play a role in men’s behavior in seeking treatment,” Miner said.

That stigma needs to change.

The trials and tribulations, and struggles of life can weigh heavy on the souls of both men and women, whether you live in an urban area or out in rural country. But that doesn’t mean we can’t get through this together as a community.

There are resources available to those struggling with suicidal thoughts, and help is available from people who care and are willing to offer their support.

If you need to talk to someone, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Based in Houghton, the Dial Help Community Support and Outreach Center can be reached at 906-482-HELP (4357), or toll free at 800-562-7622. You can also send a text to 906-35-NEEDS (63337), or visit www.dialhelp.org to get support online.

Great Lakes Recovery Centers, at 906-228-9696, and Pathways Community Mental Health, at 906-225-1181, are resources available locally in Marquette County, but they have locations in other parts of the U.P. as well.

In addition, 211 is a free confidential number where you can get information and referrals for health and human services resources in all of the U.P.’s 15 counties.

Find a counselor, find a therapist, or even a family member or friend you can talk to about any issues you might be having. Your life is worth a lot more than you think, especially to those who love you.

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