Saying these words could help someone who is contemplating suicide

This story first appeared in the April 12, 2022 edition of MLive Kalamazoo. It is part of the Mental Wellness Project, a solutions-oriented journalism initiative covering regional mental health issues, created by the Southwest Michigan Journalism Collaborative. SWMJC is a group of 13 regional organizations, including Southwest Michigan's Second Wave, dedicated to strengthening local journalism. For more info visit swmichjournalism.com.

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When Paulo realized a troubled friend was at risk of suicide, he knew what to do.

A few years before, Paulo had participated in a suicide-prevention program at Kalamazoo Central High School. He learned the red flags. He also learned the importance of asking someone if they were having suicidal thoughts.

“He was freaking out,” said, Paulo, whose last name is being withheld to protect his friend’s privacy. “I was really worried about his well-being.”

Paulo, now 20, called his mother, whose work includes suicide prevention, to review how he should intervene. “She told me what I already knew from the training, which was just keeping him calm, talking to him, asking him if he was thinking of suicide,” Paulo said.

Paulo ended up helping his friend go to a hospital and notifying the friend’s parents.

That high school training “helped me stay mentally OK through the whole process and helped me help my friend,” Paulo said in a video for Gryphon Place, a Kalamazoo suicide-prevention program.

More than 15,000 Michiganders died by suicide over the past decade, include 345 in Kalamazoo County. While rates are highest among middle-age and older men, suicides account for more than 20% of deaths among ages 15 to 24.

Studies indicate 90% of people who die by suicide have an underlying — and potentially treatable — mental health condition.

Regardless of age, experts say that asking someone directly, “Are you thinking of killing yourself?” can be effective at identifying someone at risk for suicide, offering the opportunity to steer them to professional help.

Read the full story here.