Saving Lives: School Summit On Suicide


– Today on Saving Lives:
School Summit on Suicide, we will learn about new
research and programs and best practices that
educators can take back to their schools and put
to use in their classrooms. Hear from educational
leaders on the front line of suicide prevention, and
so much more, so stay tuned. – [Narrator] Larry Burns, President and CEO of the
Children’s Foundation. – I’m pleased to partner with Detroit Public
TV, Kevin’s Song, and other key organizations. In this series of conversations on suicide awareness
and prevention. At the Children’s Foundation, our goal is to make a
positive, lasting impact on the health and
wellness of families in Southeast
Michigan and beyond. Today’s program is an important
step in creating a dialogue on the issue of suicide
in our communities. Please join us in
this effort to address this urgent problem and
share solutions for families and their loved ones at risk. Thank you. (soft music) – I’m Cynthia Canty for
Detroit Public Television and I’m speaking to
you from a conference, bringing people together
from across the state and region to address
an urgent crisis in our community
and in our schools, the soaring rate of
suicide in Michigan. I’m here at the inn at St.
John’s in Plymouth, Michigan, where the fourth
annual conference on suicide is taking place. It’s hosted by Kevin’s’s Song, that’s an organization committed to generating public awareness
about the causes of suicide, and then creating
measures to prevent it. The numbers are alarming
across all age groups, including students. The suicide rate for
teens in Michigan has doubled over
the past decade. It is now the second leading
cause of death among our youth. Schools obviously play a
major role in the lives of our youth having almost
daily contact with them. Yet Michigan lags
behind many other states in providing educators
with the training and the resources that they
need to help students at risk. This conference features
a full day school summit, inviting educators, mental
health professionals, policymakers and other
concerned people to learn about new research on
programs and best practices that educators can then
take back to their schools and put to use in
their classrooms. Today we’re going to talk to and hear from
educational leaders on the front line of
suicide prevention. This presentation is part
of the year long campaign by Detroit Public
Television, Kevin’s’s Song and the Children’s Foundation, a campaign to shine
a light of compassion and understanding on an
issue that has way too long remained in the shadows. Kicking off today’s conference
is John Della Volpe, the Director of Polling for the Harvard Kennedy
School Institute of Politics. He talks about the United
States of anxiety, let’s listen. – What do you think
unites young people today? Say what? Anxiety, yeah fear, Okay. And again, I said fear and
I go around the room, okay. And literally this is the
order of what young people were telling me,
the order, okay. Fear unites us, and
it’s a fear of what? Fear of death. People are raising hands. Fear of our rights
being infringed upon, fear of the future for our kids. Fear for our family, fear for
our health, I could continue. And then next I would ask, What don’t we understand? And this is probably the
quote that I refer to, most often when I
give a talk like this and people ask me like
what do we need to know about young people
in America today? And whether those
people, as Larry said, whether they’re in
the media or folks who are interested in
serving in politics, I said, you need
to understand that the way, and I kind
of rephrase this, the way in which we, as older
Americans think the words of this young woman,
about finances or taxes, whatever our day to day
struggles are, okay? The weight that we
carry on those things, that’s the way they
feel about living and dying, every
single day, right? This was a young woman
who was a student at Ohio State University, we’re talking about walking
into those classrooms. Thinking about
where the exits are, and how to deal with that
on a day to day basis. So, the same daily
weight, in her words on adult shoulders of
our bills and taxes is what children feel
about living or dying. – John, we wanna welcome you
to Detroit Public Television. It is so good to have you here. You are an expert on
political polling. So what’s in people’s minds? What’s in their hearts? So why is this the
United States of anxiety, especially for young
people, for teens? – Yes. Thanks for having me. For 20 years, I’ve essentially
been doing the same job, which is I spend a lot of
the summer, and a good part of a school year
because I’m associated, I’m a Polling director, of the Institute of
Politics at Harvard, we focus on young Americans. And what I’ve noticed, last
two or three, four years is before I can
have a conversation about politics, I say, what’s it like to be
a young person today? What are their biggest
challenges in our community? And over the last year,
two years, three years, the mood has been dark
and sad and urgent, which is, considerable
school shootings. “I’m concerned about opioids, “I’m concerned about my best
friend, taking their life. “I’m concerned
about My best friend “who’s in a coma
because of opioids.” In trying to make sense
of those very real, very personal problems, in an already kind of
fraught environment, dealing with all the other
challenges that teenagers and 20 something year olds
already have to deal with. So what I found was, before
I could have a conversation about the economy,
health care education, we needed to give voice
to the very real fears that are essentially uniting, I think, a generation
of Americans. – And you touch on this,
you think about the times we live in, they’re
fraught times. We are in such a highly
polarized nation, highly polarized world. There’s technology that
is invaded every corner of the lives of
these young people. How does that impact
mental wellness and also thoughts of suicide? – Well, technology
certainly is not helpful. It can be helpful in some ways, but in ways that in
which it’s not helpful, is according to one
of our recent surveys at the Institute of
Politics at Harvard, the average young
person gets eight, I think maybe up to 12
different incoming alerts or messages just on their phone, about the state of the world. And again, without in
many cases a proper, kind of civics,
grounding and education, it’s difficult to make
sense of everything. And when we have,
without being partisan, but we have concerns
about the climate, concerns about, do we continue
or not continue with ACA, what that means
for mental health. When people are becoming fired and impeachment and corruption. These are concerns from
any side of the aisle that young people have a hard
time kind of dealing with. And when I asked a young
person, what don’t we understand as kind of older Americans? What she said to me, she
was a college student. She said the way in which
you think about taxes and your finances, that’s why we think
about living and dying. Every single day, – So bottom line
in our last minute, what’s the to do for
schools and for parents? – I think to give
voice to young people, to understand that they
grow up, and they grow up in many cases, the
first political member was argument over Obama or
McCain, Obama versus Romney and those sorts of tensions. So give voice let
them know, it’s okay to have a different set of
values, a different opinion than you might have one, and continue to have
that sort of conversation about the stresses that
they see every day. And what young people
tell us that they want is, they want a social
worker or a psychologist in every single
school in America. They’re raising their hands and they wanna have these
kinds of conversations, get it off the chest and
know that they’re not alone. Concerned about not just
boys in social media and body image, but also the
state of our politics today. – Good stuff John, thank you so very much,
– Thank you. – Now we will turn
into a panel of experts who discuss innovative programs
that schools and communities are using to enhance
Mental Health and prevent youth suicide. – Okay, so I basically say to
them ever since kindergarten, you’ve been running outside, three times a year in case
the building is on fire. However, I hate to
break it to you, your building is probably
never gonna be on fire, but it’s great that you know
to go outside and what to do. And we talk about why do
we have you actually get up and physically go outside? Why don’t you just
sit in your chair, I’ll show you a floor
plan, we’ll make an arrow and the kids go, “Oh we wouldn’t know what to do, “everybody would freak out.” So once I kind of
get them on board with the whole concept
of a fire drill. I say remember I told
you one in six students is gonna think about suicide? But we’ve never
told you what to do. We’ve never
practiced what to do. So these little
bookmarks are available out in the resource room
at the no resolve table and also I put a
stack of them in here. Everybody gets a bookmark. And basically they flip
it over and it says, “Three people who
care about me.” And I have them write down the name of at
least three adults, they’re not allowed to
pick another student, it’s gotta be three adults,
that they feel they could go to. If they were ever
thinking about suicide, or they were concerned that
maybe one of their friends were, they write them down, and then
I have them put a little star or circle, the person
that they’re going to do the fire drill with. So, I tell them this
is the homework part, that what I want you to do
is I want you to now go home in the next 24 hours, and
you have to actually speak to this human. I have to be very clear,
you can’t text it. You can’t take a
picture and send it, you have to actually
look in their face and have a conversation, which for some of them
is a little terrifying. I tell them it’s 30
seconds of your life, that could make a
really big difference. So I have to kind of,
talk it up a little bit. – So with me now
are Stephanie Lange, student assistant specialist
at Dakota High School, who has developed a
successful program for suicide prevention, and also Barb Smith,
Executive Director of the Barb Smith Suicide
Resource and Response Network, which provides
evidence based training on suicide prevention. Stephanie, I wanna
start with you tell us about the work
you’re doing at Dakota, what’s this program about? – So our program
really just consists of a combination of
classroom lesson plans. So we’re trying to deliver a
lesson about suicide prevention or mental health awareness
to every student every year, along with assemblies
for students, and also training teachers
and staff to be aware of mental health concerns
that students might be facing. – [Cynthia] What
makes it effective? – Well, I feel that
what makes it effective, the most effective, is that
we’re training students to be like the front line,
to be able to identify when something’s going on
with a friend instead of 100% relying on adults being
able to identify it, because we feel like they’re
gonna notice something in a friend,
probably much sooner than an adult would
notice it in a student. – What about the
work you do, also? – We do an offer prevention
and aftercare specialty. So what we do is we
offer the evidence based as well as awareness trainings,
to go out into the public, and we say where people
live, work, learn and play. So we deliver trainings that
help teach you the tools just like you would for
when you’re on fire, stop, drop and roll. We want simple yet
effective tools of how to recognize someone
without some suicide and how to respond
in a life saving way. And then we also offer
aftercare trainings, trainings as well as services for those who have lost
someone to suicide. – What does that mean when
you say evidence based? – That means that has
been highly evaluated to show a behavior
change over years, over a series of times with multiple people
at multiple levels. So meaning that
it’s been recognized and that it’s proven to work? – Yeah, what do you think makes some approaches
work and some not? – Well, I think, I think
it’s what people are ready and willing to do, it says one size doesn’t
fit all, number one. And I feel like when people
are ready and willing and able, but if they’re taught a
tool that’s very simple, they’re more likely to use it. – When you see these kids
that you work with at Dakota, and you’ve seen them
through the years, what do you think is going on, that makes them more vulnerable to anxiety and to depression? – My opinion is that students
have always experienced a certain degree of
anxiety and depression. And it’s just in the last
maybe five to 10 years where adults have
given them permission to talk openly about this. So I don’t necessarily feel
like it’s a higher level. I feel like it’s a heightened
awareness and a comfort level. We’re telling
students to speak up, so they are. And so I feel like
that’s something that I feel in my
population, in my building. That’s my opinion. – Do you think we in
our generations as
we were growing up, it was happening around us, but we just didn’t
know, or if we felt it, we didn’t know what to call it? – I think it’s the pressures
people have now, more so. We didn’t have the pressures of being the number
one in the class and the strongest athlete. And I heard a
speaker say recently, we’re so busy doing that
we’re not just being so there’s no relax time. There’s always some type
of an adrenaline going or– – There’s an
expectation to be busy. There’s an expectation to
be producing something. I definitely agree with that. – So there’s never your body
and your minds never calming. And I feel like we need to kind
of go back to let’s just be. – So there’s so much
work to be done okay. – It’s really complicated, the
issue is really complicated. And I know that my
population in my building is a unique population. It’s different than maybe
other schools across the state. That’s why I don’t wanna
say to like extrapolate that to all of Michigan. So it’s just a
complicated issue. And I think the more people
working together with resources is how we’re gonna make
the biggest impact. – And talking about it,
just like we’re doing here. Thanks to both of you
for being with us. Let’s Listen to more
of the conversation and hear what schools
are doing to enhance the safety of their students. – So what we’ve done is we’ve
created a system for kids to be able to call, text, email, go online and
download a mobile app. Well, most kids are
talking with their thumbs. So texting is really how
we get most of our tips on followed by our mobile app. The program is available 247. As I mentioned, it’s with
the Michigan State Police, all of the tips go to our MIOC, or Michigan Information
Operations Center. Its operational,
as I mentioned 247. So, because students live
online, if somebody sees somebody posting something, something that’s troubling, a bystander can take a
snapshot and actually include that as an attachment. So one thing we try to stress
is we need to try to get as much information, the who,
the what, the where, the when, so that we can pass
on that information. We’re gonna pass
everything on to school or to local law enforcement
because you never know it may be that little
piece of information that we have, helps
kind of put together something at the local level. So we do make sure to
pass everything on. But if we get a tip that says, “My friend is gonna
kill himself.” Well, we know we need
more information. If we get a tip,
“My friend John Doe, “from Northwest
school in Lansing, “is going to talk
about killing himself.” Well, now we have
enough information to pass that information on. So we are really, really
good about trying to develop relationships with kids and
getting them to open up. So one thing I wanna stress, is that okay to say
is confidential. And what I mean by that is, we can pass on all of
the tip information, but we cannot under the law, release the name of the tipster. – I’m here speaking
with Mary Gager Drew, she’s Consumer
Programs Administrator for the Michigan Attorney
General’s office. She manages Ok2Say, it’s a
nationally recognized program that enables students
to confidentially report harmful behavior that
could threaten their safety, or the safety of others. Mary, this is such
an important tool, and so needed in our classrooms. So I guess how does this program ensure the safety of students? – Well, what we do is we have
a Michigan student Safety Act that allows students
to confidentially be able to report
anything that threatens their safety or the
safety of others. They can call, text, email, go online or download
the mobile app. And their identity is
protected under the law. So we cannot release
the information to a school, to local
law enforcement. We can let the school know
exactly what’s going on, but we cannot release
the name of the tipster. So for that, that’s
really important for kids to know that if they have
the courage to come forward, that they’re not
gonna get in trouble, that they’re gonna have somebody
that will listen to them and try to get them
the help they need. – And the worry
about peer pressure. “You squealed.” It’s crushing for teens. – Right, It is. The idea of, the
snitch, the narc, or the fear that if
they do something, there could be retaliation. So really, really trying
to break that and give kids an opportunity to safely
Go and tell a trusted adult and so we can get help
to kids who need it. – Have you got an example or two of how the program has
worked in Michigan? – Absolutely, we’ve
had so many successes and the program is really
working really well because kids are
doing the right thing. So we call them the
heroes in the hallway. They’re stepping up,
they’re speaking now. One tip that came into
mind was a young girl who had moved to
a school district. She was very pretty. For some reason, this did
not necessarily settle well. There were some girls that
decided to make fun of her. They created a web page
directly towards making her feel pretty awful about herself
and they would take images and distort it and then they
would get others to rate her. It was pretty terrifying
for this young girl. Somebody knew about
it, they reported it, we were able to get the girl
the help that she needed, we could pull the web offline. And we were able to get, there was some consequences for those girls who
intentionally misused the system to hurt
this young girl. – And I know just from
experiences in our
circle of friends, it didn’t used to be
that way, it didn’t. But when you’ve got the power of the Michigan Attorney
General’s Office involved with this, and
then schools backing that up and taking action. – Right, and we’ve got
the local law enforcement who’s doing their job, we’ve
got Michigan State Police who are doing awesome work. So everybody is
working together. And I think that’s what’s
so great about the program is everyone is working
to do the right thing. – Are you seeing children, kids, teens becoming less
reluctant to say something? – I do, because I think
that they’re seeing that the system works. If they have the
courage to come forward, that something is happening. One of the other things is
that we have outcome report. So we know that once schools
are made aware of a situation, they’re taking action, and
they’re responding appropriately and helping kids in trouble. So I think that’s one of the
blessings of this program. – This program is
being done elsewhere. But you’re saying Michigan
is kind of a leader in how it’s being implemented
and put into schools? – Absolutely. We’re getting calls all
over from different parts of the nation, people who
wanna model our program, and it’s something that we can
all take a lot of pride in. – Okay to say it is a
good news story, Mary? – It is a great story. – [Cynthia] Thanks for
sharing it with us. – Thank you, I
really appreciate it. Let’s get back to the
panel and learn more about novel approaches
that schools are adopting in
their classrooms. – I am the founder of be nice, which was actually
created in 2011. Following the death by
suicide of a young man who brought national
attention to cyber bullying. His name was Tyler Clemente. And the foundation had been
doing a lot of education in the community, prior to that. And so what we did was we needed to create something to to
keep the conversation going. So anyway, so we created be
nice and with that we got called into do assemblies to
talk about being nice, but we were very, very
intent about the fact that this is a mental
health education, suicide prevention conversation
that we’re talking about. People need to have a
greater understanding why you should treat people
with respect, with civility. Why you should
connect with people, so be nice turned
into an action plan. – And with me now is Christy
Buck, Executive Director of the Mental Health
Foundation of West Michigan. Christy so good
to have you here. And I know you’ve been part
of creating two new programs for the classroom. Live, Laugh, Love and as we
see on your shirt, be nice. be nice is something that
might be tough for kids to do tell us about this program. – It is, and so what be nice is, is the mental health education
suicide prevention program that comes with an action plan. So what’s more than
just to be nice and to treat everybody
with respect and civility, like we want everybody to, but it’s having a
greater understanding
that there’s a plan, notice, invite,
challenge and empower. – It’s a roadmap.
– You got it. It’s roadmap to why
I should be nice. So the end is to notice
what is good, what is right. And that’s every day, I
do need to look at people in a positive light,
what’s good, what’s right. So then, with that tool, I
can notice what is different. So if I notice
what is different, I need to invite
myself to reach out, I need to challenge that
because it’s a risk. It could be a risk, I might
be getting myself in trouble. It could be that I’m
gonna lose my friend because I’m telling
someone that I’m concerned about my friend. And then ultimately,
that is huge, because it’s empowering
myself and empowering myself to give that person
resources and assistance. – You have over three
decades of working as a mental health professional. Thinking of our kids, what
do you see as the drivers behind what seems
to be an increase in depression, anxiety, teen
suicide, what’s going on? – So even today, our presenters that
were at the conference really talked about it exactly. And that is, what is
bringing about a change in so many people
people’s behaviors is what’s going on around them. And so when you get
up in the morning, and you happen to have the
TV on for the national news and my child, my son daughter
is in the room with me. They’re hearing that negativity, that thing that could place
fear in their own lives. Fear breeds anxiety. And so we know that
anxiety is the most common mental health disorder,
but anxiety left untreated, somebody could actually
develop depression, with depression comes people
that may have thoughts of taking their life. – It’s like a spiral.
– It is. – What can schools
do to adapt to, and deal with these changes which you’ve seen
over the decades. – Okay, another great
presenter was here today and that was from the
University of Michigan, Dr. King, and she mentioned,
connectivity, connectedness. And I really truly believe and I know it, and that’s
why I’m so passionate about be nice, that
we need more programs that are connecting kids. And what’s better than
Connecting Kids with respect, dignity and treating
people in a civil manner. So I love it. I love what we’re doing,
I love our program and that it can build
resiliency in other students and help people to connect
to each other by a simple Hi, a hello, a compliment, getting
them involved in a club or organization, creating
more clubs and organizations within my school, to allow for that
connectiveness to happen. – You’re giving kids in
sitting in the classroom is part of the power, to really affect in
a good way the person sitting next to them.
– That’s what it is. – Are schools doing
enough broadly speaking? – I’m hearing a lot, and
I’m seeing a lot of them at this conference,
and it was holy cow! Walking down the
resource lane, right? But we’ve got to be able
to get to the masses also. So we have created with
be nice as an action plan and it can transcend to
adults and to companies. To faith organizations. We were in a school
and there happened to be a be nice tennis
match, Imagine that! Between two rival teams. And about two weeks
later, I received a note from a grandmother who happened to be sitting
at the tennis match. And she said, “What you
did for our boys that day, “actually saved lives.” A grandma! And I’m going, that’s
what you wanna get to. So if we can’t get
into every school, which there should be a program surrounding mental
health education, which can lead to
suicide prevention, we’ve gotta have
that expectation. – Christy, thank
you so very much. Great advice, great work.
– Thank you Cindy. – Thank you so very much.
– Great to be here. – Now let’s listen in on another
important panel discussion on innovative programs
to educate middle and high school students on suicide awareness
and prevention. – The evidence that we found
in the Prepare U program from day one, as well
as moving forward and continuously
throughout the country, is there’s an increase
in meaning and purpose. There is increase in
emotional support. There’s decrease in trauma
symptoms, anxiety symptoms, as well as the reporting
and pain symptoms. And if you look at the bottom, the measures that we use and that the schools
are utilizing today, our national measures. currently Prepare U is
being used in nine states. We’ve had the number one
academic school in the state, as well as alternative
school districts, religious school districts,
private day schools. We even have juvenile
delinquent facilities using the program. And we’ve also had schools that have had multiple
suicides as well as shootings. – I’ve got Ryan Beale
here with me now, Ryan is the CEO and founder
of The Live Network. He has studied and written
about the effect of social media on mental health. Ryan, what led you into
that area of interest? – It’s a great question. One is I’ve always been a
advocate of understanding how people interact
with one another, and relationship
health because really, that is the core of
all good relationships. I mean, you see, even
when people retire and they kind of
start disassociating, their will to live actually
starts diminishing. So I have, was in 2006 started the first private
family social network that was called Chatter
Tree at the time. And I’ve just always
been looking at how do we get the
heart of relationships, family and wellness
and connect that? So it’s evolved over the years
to some of the work we do now within the schools with
the Prepare U curriculum. – And social media. I know you wrote a book, it’s
called 40 days Off Facebook, a pivotal journey. And I gotta say, sounds
like I oughta do it. It sounds like a great idea. Can students survive
being off social media For any period of time? – That’s a great question. So one is for me, I was doing
it as a cathartic experiment. Because I was dealing with
a lot of trauma in my life. Lost my brother to suicide. Many traumatic events. The answer to your question. We do know that there
is a direct correlation. So they used to say correlation
does not mean causation between social media
use and depression, anxiety as well as
suicidal ideation. But they do see that
now with smartphones and because of cohort effects, that we see that there
is a direct causation of these issues. So can students do it? In the beginning and part of the things
in the curriculum, they’re removed
from their devices, and they will be more anxious. It’s they’re having
withdrawals– – Cold turkey.
– Exactly. So however, but as you
get the withdrawal, just like anything else,
if you are detached from a substance
that you’re abusing, you start to really
connect with your core and build a healthy relationship
with yourself and others. – And people start
to feel the benefits. – Absolutely. – How can parents best help
their kids handle social media? – I think as parents
that we are at a point that we need to create a
culture of understanding that we don’t really have
a set value of norms. So it’s important for parents to start leading by example, I’m a parent, I know
I’m guilty at times that when my kids
wanna engage with me, I’m checked into my
phone and technology is drawn to us to get us
to become addicted to it, that’s how revenue increases. So it’s important that we
realize that technology needs to be a tool for us
to connect with each other, not to disattach when
we’re with each other. Somebody told me recently
that their family member has a rule that at dinner, whoever pulls out
their phone first pays for the dinner
for themself. So it was a very reasonable
way to motivate people. So when they’re about
to check their phones, you say are you gonna pay
for your dinner for yourself when they’re out? So it’s just a reminder
that we need to encourage one another just to be present, to not have to
dance somewhere else when we are building
relationship with ourselves, with each other, our
family especially. – And your point is so
well taken that mom and dad may think well, they’re
watching the kids but you have to pay attention
to your own your phone use and your own technology use and your own social
media habits as parents. – Yeah, we model I mean,
that’s how they learn. – That’s great advice. Now let’s return to
that panel discussion. – Music was my way through or at least the first
step in the process. I started writing
songs and the first one was called “No Resolve”. And that’s what
led me to starting this organization eventually
changed the spelling from N-O, to K-N-O-W, to
hopefully inspire hope. And what I do is I go to middle
schools and high schools, and I share my story in an
assembly style presentation. I talk about the loss. I talk about what I
felt going through it. After the fact I
perform the song along with several other songs, and I talk about the stories
behind them, and where I was, what stage I was at, in my
journey through the grief and my own depression
and mental health issues. And along the way, we
talk about coping skills. – With me now is
Dennis Liegghio, He’s the founder of KnowResolve. Dennis, I know that there’s
a real personal story that led you to the work you do. Tell us about that. – I lost my dad to
suicide when I was 14. And our last words
were in anger. So I struggled for many
years with that guilt, and all the other
stuff that comes along with a loss by suicide,
the shame, the anger, the grief, complicated
grief, and music ended up being my way through and
I started writing songs. The first Song that I wrote
was called “No Resolve”, and it was about the loss
and everything I was keeping bottled up inside because of it. And eventually that led to starting this
organization in 2007, kept the name No Resolve,
change the spelling to K-N-O-W, to try to raise awareness
and make this something okay to talk about. – So, how does KnowResolve work? What’s the mission? – The main program for the first 10 years was the presentation that I had developed
for middle schools and high schools, where I go
and I talk about my experience and my dad’s loss by suicide, everything that I struggled
with because of it. And I bring my guitar
and I play some songs and I talk about my
journey through the grief and my own depression,
and suicidal thoughts, and everything that
helped me along the way. – As you’ve done this work,
and you talk to young people, every time we bring
this topic up, the word stigma rears its head. What do you see is the key
to getting past the stigma that keeps someone who needs
help from asking for it? – Talking to each other. And for me, one of
the big turning points in getting the help that I
needed for my own depression and post traumatic
stress disorder frankly, I needed medication
along with therapy. And the creative outlet. And I had that internal stigma
that I couldn’t get past I was afraid of side effects,
I didn’t wanna take a pill. I was worried about what
other people would think. And it was a conversation
with a friend that changed my mind about
that, along with the news that my wife and I were pregnant
and my desire to do better, to be better, to
feel better for her. – Like you wanted to say
it’s gonna end with me. – Yes. – Do you feel in these years that you’ve been
doing this work, do you see attitudes changing? Are we evolving in
the way we think about mental health
issues and suicide? – I think so. I think we’re making a lot of
progress with reducing stigma surrounding mental
health issues, and getting to a place
of greater understanding that it is a brain illness. The brain is an organ,
It’s part of the body, and there’s no line,
there’s no shame. It’s not your fault, but
it is your responsibility. – What’s at stake here? – Lives, lives are at stake. Happiness is at stake, the ability to just enjoy
one’s life on a daily basis. All of that is at stake. – Dennis, thank you so very
much for spending time with us. – Thank you. Sometimes it takes a
little magic to help people suffering from mental health
issues as we hear next. – When I was in high school, I started to develop this
program inside of my magic show. And to develop this kind of
talk for those who saw it. It’s a suicide prevention
and coping skills assembly, but I use magic instead
of a PowerPoint. When I was getting
out of high school, every organization, every
school and every single place that I went to, went, “Ha! “We don’t need that here. “What are you talking about?” Because maybe I didn’t
have really a track record. So naturally, I got an A Ford
Focus with my best friend and I went to Las Vegas, and
I started to street perform and do the exact same
presentation that you saw just on the side of the street, living out of a Ford
Focus and collecting tips. And this went on for
a very long time. I went from Denver,
Colorado to Vegas, I got eaten alive
on Venice Beach and ran into a street gang
that kicked my butt (laughs). And then we had to go back
to Vegas and eventually home because I went broke. When I got home, I had
apparently got the attention of a couple newspapers
and Common Ground, saw that I was an
in-patient there, and they reached out
to me and they said, “Hey, we want you to start
speaking for us to raise funds.” And I said, Okay, cool. That’s where I met Tony
Rothschild who passed away about a year ago yesterday. And he really coached
and mentored me. Originally, what I wanted
to do was be a magician who had a giant platform. And then I would
use that platform to talk to my audience
about mental health, like I’ve seen other
entertainers do. But he told me that I needed
to mix messaging together, and that’s what I need to
do for the rest of my life and it would reward me and he
could not have been more right – Anthony, you take a very
unusual approach to this work in preventing suicide. Magic. What led you to this approach? – I’ve always loved magic. And after, coming to know, it’s
one of the oldest art forms that we use, that
we’ve been using in to mix it with storytelling, it’s just so powerful
and much more interesting than a PowerPoint for high
school middle school students. – But what led you
to also this interest in mental wellness,
mental health issues. – I’m a three time
suicide attempt survivor, I struggled a lot with
self harm in high school, middle school, and using
negative coping tools to manage my stress, my
depression and my anxiety. I decided very early on that
I always wanted to use magic. And originally it was to build
a platform as an entertainer and then talk about
mental health. Like I’ve seen a
lot entertainers do
but then I decided to just mix them into each
other and do school assemblies but didn’t always start like
that though, (laughs) so. – So it grew into that and
it’s called the Magic of Hope. Why do you call it that? – The Magic of Hope because there is just so
much potential in hope. And there’s so much importance. When I was suicidal, I had zero hope for myself, for my future, for
my environment. And it was truly
that wow factor. I think that a lot of people
get when they experience a magic trick where they just,
wow, that’s unexplainable! When I felt hope again,
that’s the closest I could explain of how it was, it was just this
magical experience. – Did magic save your life? – I won’t say that
magic saved my life. I think that therapy, inpatient
therapy, outpatient therapy, learning coping skills is
what saved my life, Magic. A lot of people talk
about art therapy. Magic was my art therapy and my way of kind
of explaining things. – So you come in to a
classroom, you do a magic show, but you’re presenting this very, very important life
saving message. What kind of reaction
do you get from kids? I’ve received well over
three or 400 messages from students in the
last couple years. It’s all positive. A lot of times I’ll actually
get every everything from just, “Thanks for
coming to our school, “I really enjoyed the message.” I’ll get a lot of kids
asking me further, how do I stop self harming? How do I approach my
parents or somebody about my addiction
or me using drugs to cope with my stress? And then on the more
extreme side of things, there has been times where
I’ve given a presentation and I’ve received a
message from a high school and middle school
students saying, “I’m suicidal, I need help.” And that’s when things
get a lot more into, I have to contact the school
counselor and go from there. – [Cynthia] It gets
very real very quickly. – It gets very
real very quickly. And that’s something that
I take very seriously but I go over this
with the school before. I’m saying hey,
this will happen. As long as you know the
counselors available for me to just screenshot
and send it to them, because that way
they can immediately get the student down there. – How much traveling
do you do all around? – I travel all around. A lot of my schools
are in Michigan. But in the last couple years,
I have done an entire county, for example, Clarion
County, Pennsylvania, I’ve been to every school there. I’ve been to almost
every county in Michigan all the way to DC, Chicago. In a couple weeks
in the same week, in the middle of February,
I’ll go from Milwaukee to Sioux Sainte Marie in Miami in a seven day period
and I’ll be home for maybe four or five
hours in between there. – Certainly (mumbles) You’re a man on a
mission, Anthony, we wanna thank you for
sharing that with us today. – Thank you. – Kevin’s Song, the
wonderful organization that brought together
all of these caring and committed people has
created a new documentary debuting at the conference. Let’s take a look
at a short segment of We Need to Talk. – Because of individuals
talking within our group, the connections that got made are things that we will never
be able to actually quantify, we know they’re there. Kids would say, “I learned
something that I’m not alone.” – The thing I liked about
doing it with Mr. Garrison is, is that he made it known
that he wanted to create a safe environment. Like every day in class,
we have the circled talks, and he’d give us a topic
and we can discuss it as a class, that way
you build a relationship with the teacher,
a form of trust, and with the other
classmates because he told us nothing you say
leaves this room. – We just went to another level
of understanding each other and it’s not just the
kind of friendship that lasts through high school, is kind of friendship that’s
gonna last a lifetime. – The kids are crying out to us. That one, they want to
talk about these things. They want a meaningful way
to engage and understand their own mental health. To them, they are
seeing this in the news, they’re seeing it in
conversations everywhere. And they’re looking for the
administrators to give them a meaningful experience
that allows them to not only understand
their own mental health, but to be able to normalize
these conversations with each other, and
to give them tools that are gonna help
them be more successful in the world, in the future. – [Narrator] After just
five years as principal, Pat Watson was promoted
to superintendent of the West Bloomfield
School District, he will tell you
without apology, that instituting this holistic
approach to mental health in his school, was the
most important thing he’s ever done in his
24 years as an educator. – Every single school
in this country is dealing with these
issues right now. And they’re not
going to go away, they’re not going to lessen. So often in schools, we
forget that the basic needs of our students need to be met. We’ll provide free
or reduced lunch, we’ll make sure that they
have a clothing drive, but we’ve done nothing
to address mental health. That student can’t move forward, if those mental health
basic needs aren’t met. Mental health is going to
impact every single student you have in your body. That student who doesn’t
do well in Spanish one, still can be fine. The student who maybe
struggles through algebra two is still going to be fine. The student who doesn’t
know how to have self care and doesn’t have the mental
health skills that they need, they’re not going
to be fine a school they’re not going to
be fine later in life. – With me now is Leo
Nouhan, who’s a board member of Kevin’s Song and
the coordinator of
today’s conference and congratulations, I
see a smile on your face. We have hundreds
of people are here and soaking up these
important messages. You have to feel proud. – I’m thrilled today, I think
on behalf of the whole board at Kevin’s Song and all
our advisors and helpers. I mean, it really turned
out to be way better than we ever anticipated. The numbers are great, the
cross section of people, the diversity, the fact
that we have teachers and mental health professionals
and some Physicians and advocates for suicide
prevention in mental health, it’s couldn’t have been perfect, it couldn’t have been
better that today. – I can only imagine the
amount of work it took to pull this all together. – It takes a long time to
kind of pull it together. There are months when you
think, gee, I don’t really have a whole lot to do and then in
the last 90 days, it’s a lot– – Gee, I have a lot to do.
– I have a lot to do. – What do you hope,
personally in your heart, when you think of all the work
that you’ve put into this? What do you hope will
come out of today? What do you hope you accomplish? – I hope that we can move the
needle throughout the state to make people more aware of the need for
suicide prevention. And I hope that we
can finally convinced the business community and
those who are in charge of our schools, and those who run our health systems and those who pay our medical
bills through insurance. I want those groups to
understand the need for this and to join us in advocating
for better risk assessment, better access and
better prevention. – In the years that you’ve
been doing this work, Leo are you seeing
attitudes changing? Is there a shift? – Absolutely, there is. – How? – There’ some momentum now
in the state of Michigan. And I think it’s in part, thanks to the
current leadership, the previous leadership, there was many efforts
that were being made to change mental
health at delivery of mental health systems. Everybody is kind
of working hard to find the right
model to deliver it. But we’re finally seeing
some awareness of suicide and how serious of a problem
it is at different levels for young people,
for middle aged men that are working, for
seniors for veterans, and we finally
see some movement. The governor has asked
for a statewide plan. And the legislature
has just passed a law that will establish a suicide
prevention commission. And so we’re trying
to form a coalition, a large statewide
coalition of Coalition’s to help the state
make those moves and to help the business
community and the insurers and the health care. Everybody is interested, but nobody has ever stepped
forward to bring them all together–
– Unite. – And that’s what we’re
doing with one voice. – And briefly,
there’s a new film, how do you hope this film will
kind of further this cause? – The whole point of the film was to show people
what’s out there, what resources are out
there, for schools, for people that work
with youth, for families, to give them the tools to
address some of these issues. – Well, the work is never
ending, you are tireless. Kevin’s Song is a
wonderful resource. We’re lucky to have you. Thank you for being with us.
– Thank you. – Let’s look now at some
more of the documentary. – [Narrator] Friendship Circle
is a community organization providing friendship and
inclusion to individuals of all ages with special needs. Teens from neighboring
communities volunteer hundreds of hours a year
at Friendship Circle, under the mentorship of teen director
Rabbi Yarden Blumstein who noticed that his teens
had some needs of their own. – A few years ago, as I
was engaging these teens and networking with
these teams to volunteer, we started picking up
a lot of team isolation and teen crisis. And that kind of stems from
the idea that Friendship Circle initially started as
a place that people who felt isolated and
alone could find a home and find a community. So teens are reaching
out and saying, Can we get that same friendship? Could we get that same support? Could we get that
same community? And therefore created a program, it started with just a
little bit of training and programming, eventually
turned into a full flung program called UMatter and that’s
we’re running today. – For a quite a while now I
have struggled with anxiety, I was trapped with my anxiety
until my sister came up to me one day when I was
struggling and told me about this program
called Umatter, and I immediately wanted
to become involved. I felt like it was something
I needed to be a part of, because it stressed such
an important message. – UMatter’s First of
all, a message to teens that they matter
unconditionally. It’s not their scores, their
grades, their achievements, their score capabilities, they
have value inherent value, and it’s not based on
what they’re doing. Teens are so much more
in touch and in tune with information that adults
find out so much later in the game, if
we find out ever. And therefore they matter
to those around them, they could do
something about it. – Now, it is my great
privilege to introduce you to two people who made
all of this possible, Gail and John Urso, the
founders of Kevin’s Song, what a wonderful, wonderful day This must be such a source
of satisfaction for you. – Oh, it is indeed. Yeah, it’s amazing in terms
of where we’ve come from. Our first conference
was in April of 2016. And we may have had,
maybe 170 something. – Something like that.
– I’m not sure. But today, this is
the largest conference with over 420 people. It’s just amazing. – And, I know that if
people don’t know you, it should be very clear that you know what
happens in families that are touched by suicide
because your son Kevin, died by suicide in 2013. How did that lead you
to form Kevin’s Song? – Well, after Kevin’s died, we came to understand
what a huge problem and how prevalent in
our society suicide is. We didn’t know that. When we learned that
Kevin’s had died, we were of course, shocked
but we just didn’t realise it was even a possibility. And the more we learned,
the more we learned there were great resources
and organizations and books. And we just thought
if we didn’t know, other people must know. So what can we do to
help spread the word? – Taking action out In something that
was so terrible and painful for you. You’ve turned it
into positive action. And John, think about
everything that’s going on here. What’s at stake, both in the
short term and the long term? – Well, raising awareness to
I suppose both in the short and long term, raising awareness
that we are in a crisis in terms of people ending
their life by suicide, second leading cause of
death among young people. Fact that, our state of
Michigan is lagging behind nationally with other states in terms of the
numbers of suicide. We are at about 34%, while, national records
increase at 25%. So there are just so many
things that need to be done both long and short term. But I wanted to just
share I met a woman here from North Carolina, who
said that she had come because she wants to
start a similar program in North Carolina– – So you’re seeding this
world around the country– – Yeah, which is so exciting. – Well, we wanna congratulate
you on this tremendous day. So much more work to be done
and you’ll be at the forefront from a thank you so much. – Thank you. – Let’s watch another
clip from the documentary. – [Narrator] The
University of Michigan Comprehensive Depression center is the first of its kind
and at the forefront of changing the paradigm
of understanding and treating depression
and bipolar illness. In 2007, a
partnership was formed with the Ann Arbor
public schools to train school personality
depression awareness and suicide prevention. In 2009, a student component
was added for middle schools and high schools
called Peer to Peer. – One of the changes
that I’ve seen really in my 11 years here
at the depression center is we do a lot of
trainings for school staff. And I think, 10, 11
years ago, we would go in and do some presentations
on sort of suicide alertness and those types of things. And we had a fair
number of teachers who would sort of
sit there and say, “This isn’t really my job.
I’m here to teach math. “Why are we even
talking about this?” And I’ve seen a huge
shift in the last decade of school staff, no matter what their role
is in the school saying, “We need your help
come in help us.” – So the Peer to Peer program
essentially uses the idea that peers listen
to their peers. It’s utilizing
that dynamic to put true effective mental health
information into schools and to sort of let it
start from a nucleus of committed students who
are the peer to peer members at that school who
we help to train and help to educate
about mental health, and then help them create
campaigns within their schools the rest of the year. Sometimes that looks
like an assembly, posters in the hallways and in the bathrooms
above drinking fountains, high visibility areas. If we can arm them with, some good facts, a better
understanding of warning signs depression, anxiety,
potential symptoms, things to look out for,
how to approach a friend, we have fewer people who
might slip through the cracks and more students who are
more likely to be introduced to the kind of help
that they may need. – I am here with Nancy Buyle, School Safety and Student
Assistance consultant at the MaComb Intermediate
School juristic. And with Polly Gipson, who is
clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the
University of Michigan. It has been a very, very
Long day here at the Inn at St. John’s and a
very, very productive day with so many wonderful
experts talking and so many people who care. Polly what do you think is
the big takeaway from today? – Yeah, that’s a
really great question. And it’s been a pleasure
and honor to be here today. And to be one of the
featured speakers. I think the big takeaway from
today is that there’s hope that there is a village,
and there is a village of so many different
stakeholders that are committed to preventing this tragedy of
suicide in our communities. – And what did you
take away today? – The theme that I’m hearing
throughout is connection. And it’s been very gratifying
to see how many people and particularly the
educators who are coming and want to learn
more to enhance what they’re already
doing in their schools. And so I think the hope
is great and connection, that it doesn’t have to
take a whole lot just us being able to be in
relationship with each other and with our youth to
really make a difference. – There certainly seems to
be such a growing awareness that you have to talk about it. That old feeling of
don’t talk about them, don’t give them ideas. You have to shed some light
on it and talk about it. Have you seen that
process happening today? – Oh, definitely. I used to get that
question, actually. And I didn’t get
that question today, this idea that if
I talk about it, am I going to implant ideas? Or am I going to make a kid
become suicidal by asking? So I think I hadn’t thought
about it till just now. But I usually do
get that question and I didn’t get
that question today. – Yeah. – What do you see
as the best ways that we as a caring community,
whether it is relatives, whether it is teachers, clerics, people who are in the
lives, teachers, classmates, how do we best come together
to solve this problem when you realize this
alarming increase in young people
dying by suicide? – So how do we
best come together? – Yeah, how do we change this? – So I think, Kevin’s
Song conference, this idea and getting
somebody who has the passion and the resource to make the ask because you’re talking
about the importance of asking the question
regarding suicide, it’s okay to ask the question. Well, really, the best
way to do this is to ask is to have somebody who
can put this together and reach out to people
and say, will you come? Because I think we’ll
all be surprised by how many people
really do want to come. There’s 400 people here. – And for people watching on TV, who couldn’t be at
the conference today, but worry about this and
wonder, what’s the first step? They’re worried about
someone in their family, Polly what’s the first
step they should take? – Well, I would say
that if you’re worried about someone in your family, then you need to talk to them
about it, and you need to ask. And oftentimes, it’s
important feel prepared before you talk
to your loved one. And so I would say tap
into your local resources. There are so many
resources in your community that provide education
around suicide prevention, it provides a language of how
to even talk about suicide. So I think it kind of
starts with yourself but also making sure
that, we kind of say when you see something,
say something, it’s kind of a play on that. If you’re concerned
about someone, speak up to them
and say something. – Do you believe Nancy, we’ll
see this statistic change? Can we reverse this statistic? – I am eternally hopeful,
that is my passion. That is my drive, we will
get to zero suicides. (laughing) And I do, I think we can. We’ve seen it happen
in MaComb county, zero youth suicides
after we did a big launch of a suicide prevention program. And it’s possible. – The work is being done here. Polly, Nancy, thank you
so much for being with us. – Thank you.
– Thank you. – I want to thank the
Urso family, Kevin’s Song. The Children’s Foundation
and all the people that we’ve met at the
conference on Suicide Today for making this
program possible. Suicide is a difficult issue. It spares no income, ethnic or any other
group in our community. But there is hope. There is continuing
research leading to innovative approaches
for educating the public and for reaching out to
individuals who are at risk. Suicide is a
frightening problem. But as the people
here today proved we need to talk about it. We need to work together as a
community to find solutions. We need to reach out
to people in need. No one should have to
struggle with issues like depression alone. We can help them. We must help them. This is Cynthia Canty
for Detroit Public TV. Thank you for joining us today. (soft music)

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2 Responses

  1. Charles Brightman says:

    Here in America: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.
    If an American citizen does not have the legal 'Liberty' to end their own 'Life' if they and they alone believe it would make them 'Happy' to do so, then are they truly 'Free'?
    If society won't legally let people die, then are we ALL slaves to society?

  2. Lugubriously says:

    Thank you for doing this: Most people I know have struggled with suicide.

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