Preventing suicide

MARQUETTE – The Marquette County Board unanimously approved a resolution recently signifying its intention to participate, with other interested stakeholders, in the preparation, coordination and implementation of a strategic suicide prevention plan for Marquette County.

The issue came to the county board about a year ago when Skandia resident James Gallant – concerned about youth suicide – suggested the panel explore adoption of a suicide prevention program.

Commissioner Steven Pence and then Commissioner Michael Quayle volunteered to look into the idea on behalf of the board and explore what services were in place and how well-coordinated available prevention efforts might be.

Over the past several months, Sandra McGovern, clinical director for inpatient psychiatric services at Marquette General Hospital, became the principal architect of the prevention plan, which was modeled after Michigan’s suicide prevention plan and was recently presented to the county board.

“There’s a lot that we did in this, a lot more to be done,” Pence said. “I think what we were trying to do was to gather all of the agencies together that have some interest in this, to identify them and what they’re doing, and to identify – as Sandy has done so well – our strengths and weaknesses and then to try and coordinate an effort.”

Having the plan prepared by this month was one of the main objectives of the assembled work group, which included the county board, Marquette General Hospital, Marquette County Health Department, Pathways Community Mental Health, Catholic Social Services, Great Lakes Recovery and tMarquette Alger Regional Education Service Agency.

“It’s certainly not a perfect plan and we will have people tell us that, and we already know that, but as time goes on, the plan can be tweaked,” Pence said. “The important thing is to get people working on it.”

The second phase of the effort is to implement the plan by 2015.

“It’s a modest beginning it has a chance of going forward and succeeding,” Pence said. “It’ll be interesting, maybe a year from now, to see what has been accomplished.”

Marquette County has a suicide rate of 12.2 per 100,000 people each year, which is higher than the state rate of 11.7 suicides.

“Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the state of Michigan, it’s a top-leading cause of death in the nation,” McGovern said. “There’s been a steady rise per 100,000 people since 2005.”

Collectively, from 1999-2009, the Upper Peninsula had a suicide rate of 17.1 per 100,000. For youths 18 years old and younger, there was one suicide in 2009, none in 2010 or 2011 and three in 2012 in Marquette County.

Quayle said the youth age group is averaging about one suicide a year in Marquette County.

“We’re also finding, the more we’re getting involved in this, is that it’s a lot of older people that are committing suicide versus the 18 years old, the 20s and so on and so forth,” Quayle said. “Some of the stats up into the 50s and 60s are very high, especially with white males.”

The Centers for Disease Control estimate that for every completed suicide there are 25 attempts.

Over the past three years, there have been more than 1,000 known suicide attempts in Marquette County, according to data the work group compiled with the help of emergency dispatch operators. Those attempts have also been rising. There were 335 attempted suicides in the county in 2010, 370 in 2011 and 423 in 2012.

An analysis of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats related to suicide prevention in the county was completed.

“Overall, the SWOT analysis revealed that in addition to the central problem of suicide in Marquette (County), there’s multiple system, logistical and communication problems,” McGovern said.

The work group determined focus areas of the strategic plan to be addressed in the coming year, including media education and prevention and awareness campaigns, access to lethal means, services for those bereaved by suicide, development of an informational pamphlet and expansion of monitoring of suicide reports and support and promotion of suicide and suicide prevention research in the county.

“Due to the complexity of suicide prevention there is still a lot of work to be done,” McGovern said. “This program is very large in scale and is still in its infancy.”

The existing work group will assume the task of moving the matter forward with Pathways as the lead agency, devoting a part-time employee to that task, McGovern said.

Additional supporting agencies include the National Alliance for Mental Illness, NorthCare Network, the Medical Care Action Coalition and WBUP/WBPK ABC 5/10.

“I think that the more that the word gets out on this and the more that we work on this, you’re going to see other groups involved in it,” Quayle said.

John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. His email address is