Facing the Darkness

Awareness and breaking down depression’s stigma are key to suicide prevention


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Hope 360's Stephanie Grimes

Photograph by Matt Levere

Amelia Lehto was 13 when her best friend, Mo, died by suicide at age 15 — a day that forever changed her life. 

Seventeen years later, Lehto is a Resource and Crisis Helpline coordinator for Common Ground, an Oakland County nonprofit mental health care provider. She also works closely with Oakland Schools, speaking with students and educators about the warning signs of suicide in teens.

The statistics are startling. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death for all age groups, but is the third leading cause in youth ages 15-24. 

These numbers are increasing, says Lehto, who relives the memory of her sister delivering the news of her friend’s death to her in a field where she was playing.

Common Ground’s 24-hour Resource and Crisis Center provides a safe place for people to walk in and talk to a trained professional. They also offer a short-term youth sanctuary in Royal Oak for youth aged 10-17.

“The goal is to reunite the family for youth in crisis,” Lehto says. This is a resource that is sorely needed for suicide prevention.

 

Stigma Knows No Boundaries

Suicide survivor Stephanie Grimes wanted to share her story and address bullying and stigmas of depression as well as open the lines of communication to counselors and parents.

The name of her program — Hope 360 — symbolizes the three hospitals she was in and the six times she attempted suicide while suffering from severe depression. 

Grimes wants to help middle and high school students realize it’s OK to be different and reach out for help. “Bullying, peer pressure — it’s a strain,” she says. “If I can get to even one student, I feel like I’ve done my due diligence.”

Many suburban schools have excellent suicide prevention programs in place. But Grimes, a Canton resident, saw a need in Detroit schools and took action. She is working on becoming a nonprofit, and she hopes to expand to as many schools as possible.

Grimes also supports the Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide. “It has a lot of really awesome information for parents, recognizing signs, helping teens, [and] ways to help friends.”

 

Advocacy Begins at Home

What can you do to prevent suicide? Talk about it. Breaking the stigma of mental illness begins at home. If a teen feels acceptance and love, they are more likely to ask for help. 

You should also try to recognize the major warning signs: talking about death more frequently; taking more risks, using drugs, and smoking; and giving away prized possessions.

Finding a good counselor or therapist is key to recovery — before or after an attempt. 

Susie Gross of Bloomfield Hills, a licensed psychologist and mother of a son who died by suicide, has counseled many grieving families and suicide survivors. 

“There is a common misconception that if an individual is thinking about hurting himself that discussing it will increase the chances of carrying out a suicide,” she says. “I have held the hands of hundreds of patients with suicidal ideations who are still alive today. We have gently faced their darkness together and provided immediate and lasting help.”

 

Help For Survivors

Survivors of those who die by suicide often face financial hardship in the aftermath — burial, memorial, and cleanup costs that can often overwhelm a family or loved ones.

Six Feet Over, is a 501(c)3 nonprofit founded by Livonia resident Katie Hardy. She started the foundation after her American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) fundraiser named “Suck it, Suicide,” in honor of her mother, who died by suicide. SFOs biggest fundraiser takes place at Small’s bar in Hamtramck, hosted by comedians Laura Witkowski and Ray Hollifield.

“I can talk to other people who have lived with someone who had a serious mental illness — and as a survivor, I feel I have a lot to offer,” Hardy says. “I’ve had a lot of people say that they felt alone. Through starting this organization I realize that this is my purpose in life.”


Suggested Reading

Mary Jean Teachman, Never Saying Goodbye — A Life Changing Road to Acceptance and Joy After The Loss of a Loved One

After the suicide of her son, Detroit native Teachman started meditating and decided to change her perspective to find peace and happiness. She is the former president of MIRA (Mental Illness Research Association) in Bloomfield Hills.

 

Resources 

• Common Ground: commongroundhelps.org. A crisis helpline is available 24 hours a day at 800-231-1127. 

• Six Feet Over: 734-673-7370

• Hope 360: Interested schools should call 248-981-6956.

• The Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide: sptsusa.org

• American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: afsp.org

• National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 800-273-TALK (8255)

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