Suicide is Forever

Feb 13, 2016 by

By Tom Watkins –

Suicide is God awful. It snuffs out precious life and leaves a wake of agony for those left behind. I know the pain all too well, as both my older and younger brothers took their own lives.

Writing these words are painful as it conjures up the memories of better times with two of my siblings, brother Ed and Phil, the jokes, laughter, fights and enjoyment of the simplest pleasure of life. Now, they are gone and all I have are the memories.


Phil and Ed Watkins– Rest In Peace

There is even a tinge of shame and stigma associated with admitting this ugly family secret. This stigma, and yes I have to admit it is there – hurts as well. Stigma is a major barrier in getting people the mental health care they need.

I am a professional in the behavioral health field serving formerly as Michigan’s state mental health director and currently as the president and CEO of the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority ( I know better; but admit the fear, embarrassment, shame, and judgment still clings to me like cheap cigar smoke in a darkened bar. We need to defeat this stigma.

I have spoken of the clinical causes of the disease that kills and have written about suicide, depression, mental health, substance abuse and other symptoms. With the support and leadership of the Flinn Foundation (, we helped produce two documentaries: “Opening Minds, Ending Stigma” ( to help educate people about what to do and where to turn.

Yet, it is not enough. Suicide kills 38,000 Americans each year translating into about 104 deaths by suicide a day, or one every 12-13 minutes. We must do more as a society to let people know there is both hope and help available. In 2014, suicide was the 10th leading cause of all death in the U.S., the 2nd for youths aged 15-24, and 4th for adults aged 18-65.

Mental illness impacts every zip code– it is an equal opportunity disease. Mental illness does not impact “those” people, it is not simply a statistic to recite–it impacts our mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and our sons and daughters.

Happier times-author, Tom Watkins with older sister Casey and Phil and Ed

Happier times-author, Tom Watkins with older sister Casey and Phil and Ed

I have witnessed, through my brother’s struggles the joys when they were ready for help and the systems was there to help them. I have also felt the pain as their disease prevented them from availing themselves to help- or worse yet, when a bureaucratic system let them down. We can and must do better.

Educate Yourself

Over the last couple years, DWMHA has achieved the ambitious goal of training more than 10,000 citizens in Mental Health First Aid (MHFA). This special free training is made available and equips people with the knowledge of the potential risk factors and warning signs of mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, trauma, psychosis and psychotic disorders, substance use disorders, and self-injury. It also provides trainees with the skills, resources and knowledge to assess a situation, select and implement appropriate interventions, and help the individual in crisis connect with professional care.

The range of individuals trained through DWMHA includes teachers, youth, veterans, families, students, faith-based community members, social service providers, Spanish-speaking communities, and the general public. Recently we also began a MHFA instructor training for first responders in Wayne County. Our efforts were recently acknowledged on a nationwide level receiving the Community Impact Award from the National Council for Behavioral Health Council.

Don’t Do It

Suicide is irreversible. If you are contemplating suicide “Because today is the worse day of your life” –pause, knowing if this is true by definition, tomorrow will be better.

Across Michigan your local public community mental health agencies are here to help. The Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority and our 24/7 crisis line 800-241-4949 is there for you.

With proper diagnosis, treatment and support, help and recovery are possible.

We are thankful for the focus Governor Snyder Lt. Gov Brian Calley have placed on mental health issues in Michigan. More needs to be done.(Mental Health Commission –

No matter what problems you are dealing with, people are there to give you reasons to keep living. By calling the National Suicide Prevention Network 1-800-273-TALK (8255) you’ll be connected to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area, anytime 24/7.

Knowing where to turn and who to call can save lives. Save these numbers, share them with your circle of friends and colleagues so that everyone knows where to turn if they or someone they love are so desperate, distraught or ill that they are contemplating taking their own life.

Suicide kills. As a community, we are the ingredients that can help save lives. Know that you are important, someone loves you and their heart will ache with your loss. Pause, call and live.

Tom Watkins is the president and CEO of the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority ( He has served the residents of Michigan as state superintendent of schools and state mental health director.

Source: Suicide is Forever

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