Police: Watch for signs of suicide in loved ones

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published October 16, 2020

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STERLING HEIGHTS — As the end of 2020 draws nearer, the Sterling Heights Police Department is assuring the public that it is OK to seek help when thoughts about committing suicide arise.

According to Sterling Heights police, officers searched through the city at around 2:50 p.m. Oct. 3 for someone who reportedly was potentially suicidal and was planning to livestream an attempt online. Police read social media posts and deduced that the person was in the woods, and they then managed to track down a phone using GPS.

The Police Department said Officer Shawn Birch knew the area, and when he got there, he saw witnesses as well as the person he was looking for. Police said the person was already trying to perform a hanging, but Birch reportedly cut the rope and safely freed the person from danger.

The department praised Birch for his training, experience and quick action.

“Due to Officer Birch’s quick actions, the individual regained consciousness and was transported to the hospital for medical evaluation,” police said.

According to Sterling Heights Police Chief Dale Dwojakowski, anyone who feels disconnected, lonely or in despair — or who feels there is no alternative to dying — should seek professional help. He encouraged loved ones to pay attention and arrange help if they see worrying signs.

“Macomb County has their crisis hotline. There is also the national one,” the chief said.

“What you need to do is reach out to somebody. If you know of somebody that is completely disconnected — if you’re a friend of somebody like that, the danger is not talking about suicide. People need to talk about it openly and honestly. That’s the first step. Then get professional counseling and treatment. That’s also important.”

Dwojakowski said that police encounters with suicide cases, medical runs, sick or injured babies and more can be very traumatic for the officers involved.

“The emotional trauma that the officer experiences is real,” Dwojakowski said. “We have a peer support group, counseling and support services.”  

Dr. Agnes Ward, a licensed psychologist and chief clinical officer from Macomb County Community Mental Health, said there is a trend and a general increase in suicides right now because of COVID-19 and individuals experiencing more anxiety and loneliness. She said common signs of suicide ideation include feelings of depression, hopelessness and helplessness, as well as crying and changes in sleep patterns.

“A significant change from daily routine is something that is noteworthy,” she said.

If friends or loved ones notice these things, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask what’s wrong, Ward added.

“Don’t be afraid to say what you noticed,” she said. “Say, ‘I’m concerned about you. Can we talk?’

“The most important thing is not to be afraid. It is OK to ask, ‘Are you thinking about suicide?’ if you are suspecting that the individual may be considering it.”

Police said they encourage people who are contemplating suicide to seek help via the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling (800) 273-8255. Macomb County Community Mental Health services may be reached by calling (586) 948-0222, and its crisis hotline is available by calling (586) 307-9100.

Find out more about the Sterling Heights Police Department by calling (586) 446-2800.

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