CMU collaborates on statewide program to reduce suicide in Michigan men

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in Michigan, and adult men accounted for 67% of suicide deaths in the state between 2009 – 2018.

With this data in mind, it’s no surprise that a program to reduce the suicide rate of Michigan men began in 2019. Preventing Suicide in Michigan Men (PRiSMM) is a 5-year Centers for Disease Control grant-funded program aimed at reducing suicide in men ages 25 and older by 10% over the course of the five years.

“The really cool thing about this funding from the CDC is that this is the first programmatic funding that the CDC has offered for suicide prevention,” says Kristen Smith, PRiSMM Program Coordinator. “In the past, they typically provided funding for research only, so we're really excited to be in the first cohort of comprehensive suicide prevention.”

Kristen Smith, PRiSMM Program Coordinator.Smith says the CDC funded nine recipients in the first cohort of funding, including Michigan’s PRiSMM program. In 2021, two more recipients were awarded funding; and, a new round of funding has just opened up. The grant received for the PRiSMM project is for $870,000 over the course of five years.

“I think the right time to do suicide prevention work is whenever you have the time, the energy, and the resources to do suicide prevention work,” Smith says. “Michigan has been very fortunate to have the Transforming Youth Suicide Prevention Program for the last 15-16 years funded through SAMSA, the Substance Abuse Mental Health Administration. So, we've been focusing on youth suicide in our state for quite some time; and, in 2020, the governor also started the Michigan Suicide Prevention Commission. So, we're starting to shift our focus to suicide a little bit more readily. I think it's a really exciting time for Michigan to be in the first cohort with the CDC's comprehensive suicide prevention program.”

While PRiSMM is led by MDHHS’s Injury and Violence Prevention Section, in order to achieve its goals, it is in strong collaboration with University of Michigan’s Injury Prevention Center, the University of Maryland Baltimore’s Man Therapy Michigan team, Central Michigan University College of Medicine & Interdisciplinary Center for Community Health & Wellness, Henry Ford Health System, and Michigan’s Departments of Veterans Affairs and Corrections.

“One of the assets that we felt we could bring to a state initiative is our telehealth resources and our psychiatry resources,” says Dr. Alison Arnold, Director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Community Health & Wellness at Central Michigan University. “As part of the large statewide PRiSMM Project, CMU is funded to create the telehealth toolkit for suicide prevention for providers. So, we have spent the last year and a half building this online website so that telehealth providers who are working in behavioral health - they could be counselors, psychiatrists, psychologists, recovery coaches - can access this online set of resources about how they would really benefit from strategies and tools in working with men who are at risk of suicide.”

Dr. Alison Arnold, Director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Community Health & Wellness at Central Michigan University.Arnold explains that there is an increased prevalence of lethal weapons in suicide deaths in Michigan right now. In fact, according to the Michigan Suicide Prevention Commission 2021 Report, even though women attempt suicide more frequently than men, the death rate is higher for men because they are more likely to use a lethal weapon, such as a gun.

“Part of our project is to help providers become skilled at having these conversations with their patients who may be at risk of suicide, who may also have access to lethal means and to have conversations about safety planning, how to make sure that access to lethal means are limited if they're in a period of struggling or crisis, and who in their circle might help them,” Arnold says.

However, having those conversations with men isn’t always easy – not only because the topic of mental health is stigmatized, but because men are less likely to engage in help-seeking behaviors. That is where Man Therapy comes in, a resource committed to reaching men who are in “double jeopardy” – those most at risk for suicide and least likely to seek care on their own.

Dr. Jodi Frey, Professor at the University of Maryland and Principal Investigator for the Man Therapy study and the public health campaign.“Man Therapy is part of the PRiSMM project as a lead on reaching men in the community any time that they're ready,” says Dr. Jodi Frey, Professor at the University of Maryland and Principal Investigator for the Man Therapy study and the public health campaign.

She explains that much of the jargon used in conversations about mental illness doesn’t resonate with men, and men often don’t know where to look for help if they do want or need it; so, having a resource dedicated to helping men specifically is critical. 

“In some of our male-dominated industries - like first responders, construction, mining, which up in the UP is very popular, farming and agriculture, these are all very high-risk industries with occupational risks that tend to be male dominated,” Frey says. “Our strategies in mental health just don't reach men in these populations. They're not necessarily talking to mental health therapists. They're not going to call the crisis line. They may or may not even be talking to family members or trusted friends about their feelings and emotions.”

“So Man Therapy was created out of hearing what men wanted… They wanted stories of hope and resilience, they didn't want everything to be all about mental illness and doom and gloom,” she says.  “They wanted to see men that looked like themselves. They wanted to have tools to help themselves - whether it be books or resources or other things that they could do that wasn't always just going to counseling - and they wanted it to be funny and engaging. So, that is really how Man Therapy was created - out of the desires of what men said they wanted in order to open the door, to even have a conversation.”

To make sure as many men as possible know about Man Therapy and other resources available, the PRiSMM project is working to create a wide variety of partnerships.

“We've got partners and stakeholders across the state, not just with folks working in suicide prevention, but we're also working with folks that interface with adult men every day,” says Smith. “We're connecting with people in the automotive industry, the agricultural industry, the construction industry. We want to try to reach men where they are.”

“I think that it's about time that we started focusing on how we can improve the lives of Michigan men and improve their help seeking… I'd like to change the conversation around mental health and suicide prevention,” she says. “If we make it okay to talk about, then it will be okay to talk about. If we charge ahead and have the conversation - even if it's hard or we're not used to having it - then we normalize it for the general public.”

Read more articles by Gabrielle Haiderer.

Gabrielle "Gabe" Haiderer is passionate about sharing stories that show the positive interactions between individuals and businesses that occur every day in our communities - interactions that inspire hope and motivate community growth. She has used this passion to share stories through a variety of media outlets - from television to radio to traditional newspaper to digital news. When she's not writing, Gabe stays busy running her own videography and social media management business in Northern Michigan, caring for her two furkids (Watson the siamese cat and Holmes the Corgi), spending time with her husband, and tending her garden.