Local law enforcement gathers for Suicide Community Forum

By: Kathryn Pentiuk | C&G Newspapers | Published September 29, 2023

 Farmington Hills Police Chief Jeff King presents IHeart Radio’s Jonathan “Bushman” Dunnings with the Chief’s Award, recognizing his act of heroism to prevent his friend from taking her life.

Farmington Hills Police Chief Jeff King presents IHeart Radio’s Jonathan “Bushman” Dunnings with the Chief’s Award, recognizing his act of heroism to prevent his friend from taking her life.

Photo by Kathryn Pentiuk

SOUTHFIELD/FARMINGTON HILLS —  September was National Suicide Prevention Month and local leaders in Farmington Hills, Southfield and Oak Park are seeking solutions for this fatal issue.

Advocates, mental health professionals, law enforcement and local officials came together Sept. 14 at the Hawk Community Center in Farmington Hills for an open forum with the public to address this issue and work towards finding tools, resources and policing tactics for those struggling with mental health issues.

“One of my favorite sayings is ‘suicide is a permanent solution for a temporary problem,’’’ event organizer and community activist Pea Gee stated in her opening address.

Farmington Hills Mayor Vickie Barnett spoke on the harmful stigmas against seeking professional mental health help and emphasized the country’s lack of mental health facilities, psychologists and psychiatrists.

Barnett acknowledged the significant role of law enforcement, firefighters and school personnel in addressing mental health crises.

“I hope we can come up with some strong positive outcomes for the future,” she said. “And those of you who have experienced suicide in your lives: my heart goes out to you. It’s a very horrible place to be. For those of you who know somebody who may need help: please don’t hesitate to take them to an emergency room, where they can begin to receive the care they need. There’s no shame in being stressed and being suicidal. There’s only shame in not reacting to it and helping those you love.”

Southfield Police Chief Elvin Barren explained that the police often receive 911 calls from concerned parents or teachers notifying them that they have seen threats of children harming themselves on social media. Barren stated that the first thing the police would do in response to these threats is track down the individual’s identity and then send a police officer trained in crisis intervention to speak with the parents and provide that child with the resources they need.

“Time is of the essence. You know, right now, we’re in a desperate state with our children and mental health, and people who have these thoughts, often they will act very quickly to end their lives. So it’s important to give us an immediate 911 call so we can respond with our crisis intervention trained officers.”

Barren also expressed that youth ages 10-24 have among the highest suicide rates, with suicide being the second leading cause of death for that age group.

Forum members echoed Barren’s emphasis on acting soon and shared tips on noticing if someone is contemplating suicide. Warning signs may include isolation from others, low mood or disinterest in things that used to excite them, direct comments stating that they are going to end their life or veiled comments alluding to self-harm, giving items of significance away, and saying goodbye.

Risk factors for suicide may include health, environment and physical stressors. Tay Ford, the chair of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, stated that people at risk may have recently lost a loved one or are suffering from a chronic illness or a mental illness. “One in four people in this room is going to have some type of mental health condition,” Ford said.

The forum members addressed jokes about self-harm and suicide, encouraging audience members to take action and start meaningful conversations with the individual making those comments.

Farmington Hills City Council member Ken Massey is a chair for Farmington Suicide Awareness for Everyone, a community organization dedicated to providing resources and keeping the conservation around mental health going to reduce suicide rates. Massey reiterated the importance of conversation around mental health and stated that one of the biggest obstacles SAFE faces is the stigma of getting help.

“We originally thought that we didn’t have the right resources,” he said. “But, ultimately, after meeting with a number of subject material experts and really investigating it, we found the research. The resources are here, and we see some of them. What we didn’t have was a way of connecting them, because of the stigma of talking about it; we couldn’t connect them to those resources. And that’s where the educational component and our community needs to come together, decrease that stigma and get them the help they need.”

Audience members were engaged and remained active throughout the forum, sharing solutions such as bullying prevention training in schools, more mental health institutions, and stricter gun laws, specifically when it comes to renting guns, and bullying ordinances for social media threats.

Barren was commended multiple times by audience members for the professionalism and kindness officers on his force displayed when handling a mental health crisis for their loved one.

One of the audience members, Anitra Rice, of the FOL Foundation, shared the inspirational story of how she manages to find joy and beauty in life after losing two of her sons to suicide. Rice is a therapist and also sees a therapist. She attributes her strength to seeking professional mental health help, being intentional, taking mindfulness classes and her faith.

“It’s not easy,” she said. “I think the biggest thing that I’ve learned and continue to learn is that I can hold space for joy and the deep sorrow. And the more that I turned towards my pain, with love, compassion and empathy, the deeper I feel joy, and you can’t have one without the other. So I’m able to stand in the sorrow, stand in the despair, stand in the question, stand in the uncertainty and embrace it.”

Suicide and mental health resources mentioned in the forum:

• 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.

• Ambrosial Soul Lifting LLC, by Onisia Martin, www.ambrosialsoul.com.

• The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, https://afsp.org.

• Farmington Hills SAFE, www.facebook.com/Farmington SAFE.

• The FOL Foundation, www.thefolfoundation.org.

• The John D. Dingell Veterans Affairs Medical Center, www.va.gov/detroit-health-care.

• Oakland Community Health Care, www.oaklandchn.org/201/Mental-Health.

Sponsors included Eddie V’s Prime Seafood, Captain Jay’s Fish and Chicken, Sam’s Club, Wing Snob, Bunchy’s Chicken and Pizza, Mom’s Demand Action, the Department of Veterans Affairs, Farmington Public Schools, Corewell Health, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Cardinal Group II.