WNMU-TV to host town hall discussion about “Facing Suicide” documentary

The U.P. faces a unique challenge with mental health. WNMU-TV hopes that the town hall will assist in conversation advancement surrounding suicide and provide mental health resources for the local community.

Ayanna Allen, Assistant News Editor

A panel of UP mental health professionals will be hosted by WNMU-TV to discuss PBS’s documentary, “Facing Suicide,” on Sept. 27 at 7 p.m. in the Northern Center’s ballrooms. WNMU-TV has hopes that the town hall will assist in conversation advancement surrounding suicide and provide mental health resources for the local community. 

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, a little over 45,000 people died by suicide in 2020 – in addition to over 1.2 million attempts. It is the twelfth leading cause of death in the U.S., with around 130 suicides per day.

In Michigan, according to the 2022 Suicide Prevention report, 1,389 people died by suicide which was a 9% increase over 11 years. 

“Suicide is a very complex phenomenon.  A single cause rarely ever explains an individual’s choice to end their own life,” said Dr. Abigail Wyche, social work department head and town hall panelist. “The rurality and remoteness of a community can be a contributing factor, in part because of the lack of adequate and accessible mental health services that are common in rural areas.”

According to the WHO, 700,000 people die to suicide every year. Additionally, suicide disproportionately affects low to middle income countries and communities – all while being underreported for a multitude of reasons, including illegality and sensitivity surrounding it. 

“I am not native to the UP, but I have talked to a lot of Yoopers in the 10 years that I’ve lived here,” said Wyche. “Many of them seem to think it’s a part of our local culture to “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” and get through your struggles silently — that telling your neighbors and friends about your personal pain is a sign of weakness.”

Wyche said that UP residents often face financial difficulties, including housing and feeding their families. Another challenge that is prominent for UP residents is opiate, methamphetamine and alcohol addictions. 

A combination of local culture, personal traumas and the opioid epidemic, are all contributing factors to the increased rate in suicide. 

Mike Settles, WNMU-TV producer and town hall moderator, said, “Suicide is a leading cause of death in the United States and it’s no different here in the Upper Peninsula. Sadly, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find someone who hasn’t been impacted by this health crisis.” 

Experts agree that the removal of stigma surrounding mental health challenges is critical. WNMU-TV has hopes that the town hall will be a teaching moment for the community as there’s never been a more important time to have these discussions, said Settles. 

According to PBS, the “Facing Suicide” documentary combined the personal stories of people impacted by suicide to reveal insights into the mental health crisis the U.S. is facing. Its purpose is to destigmatize suicide while providing hope for those at risk.

“It’s so important in a community like ours to be thinking about how we break down the barriers between people, and how we can connect with each other in a way that is authentic, respecting our rich diversity and recognizing our common humanity,” said Wyche. “Weakness comes from being disconnected, whereas strength comes from connectedness.”

WNMU-TV’s town hall will utilize clips from the documentary to shape the conversation. Some topics that the panelists will be focusing on include seeing the signs, understanding why and when someone is in crisis, how to respond promptly and where to tap into a wide range of UP resources, said Settles. 

“If you want to learn about what we are doing in this community, your community, to make a difference, you’ll find that during the town hall event,” said Wyche. “You might even find a place for yourself to be a part of the work, and you will definitely find some clear reasons for hope.”

Those who are interested in attending the town hall are encouraged to register at this link for planning purposes, but it is not required to attend. The discussion will also be live streamed online on WNMU-TV’s website.