October 1, 2020

How to Handle a Mental Health Crisis

Show Notes

On this episode, Chuck Gaidica is joined by Susanna Rickman, crisis worker and youth suicide prevention specialist for Gryphon Place. Together, they discuss how to identify and help those going through a mental health crisis.

In this episode of A Healthier Michigan Podcast, we explore:

  • How mental health crises have increased during the pandemic.
  • Ways to approach having open conversations about suicide.
  • Understanding the warning signs that someone is in a crisis.
  • Overcoming the stigma of mental crises and seeking help.
  • How small acts of kindness can have a major impact on someone.
  • Coping with grief.

If you or someone you know is going through a crisis, call the toll-free, 24-hour hotline of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).

Additional resources to seek out help:

Transcript

Chuck Gaidica:
This is A Healthier Michigan Podcast, episode 64. Coming up, we discuss how to handle a mental health crisis.

Chuck Gaidica:
Welcome to A Healthier Michigan Podcast. It’s a podcast dedicated to navigating how we can improve our health and well-being through small, healthy habits we can start implementing right now. I’m your host, Chuck Gaidica. Every other week, we sit down with a certified health expert from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, and we dive into topics, wide ranging topics, covering well-being, and today, mental health. We’ll talk about that and so much more. How it affects us personally during this time, our families, our kids, and all the rest. On this episode, we’re discussing how to recognize a mental health crisis and what we can do if someone we know is facing that crisis. Joining us today is Susanna Rickman, who is a crisis worker at Gryphon Place. She’s going to share her firsthand experience in helping those through a crisis, as well as listening to a whole lot more about her story.

Chuck Gaidica:
It’s interesting to set the stage here before we bring in Susanna. There’s a CDC study that came out. It appears it was taken during COVID and it has been now given to us and the stats are eye-opening. The CDC survey found that almost 41% of respondents are struggling with mental health issues due to the pandemic and with the rise of behavioral health cases, we are now seeing these stats. Here are a couple of them for you. 41% of respondents reported at least one mental health condition during this time. 31% say they experienced symptoms of anxiety or depression. 26% said they experienced trauma or stressor related disorder symptoms. 13% increased substance use, and then 11% said they considered suicide in the last 30 days.

Chuck Gaidica:
Susanna Rickman, those stats are just eye-opening.

Susanna Rickman:
Yes, they are. There’s been a huge influx of calls for us as well.

Chuck Gaidica:
And I know you’ve got a lot of different titles, including chief cook and bottle washer there at Gryphon Place, but crisis worker and then, Youth Suicide Prevention Training Specialist. So it’s a long title, but tell us what a crisis worker is and what you actually do.

Susanna Rickman:
A crisis worker is someone who sits in the contact center and takes calls on the National Lifeline, as well as the local helpline. And then, we also do some contracting with some of the community mental health agencies. So basically we are that voice on the other end of the phone, when someone picks up and calls.

Chuck Gaidica:
And you would man the phones, I guess, for the most part, right? Or are you taking texts and emails too? When you say contact center, what does that mean?

Susanna Rickman:
The contact center is, it’s just the big room that we all sit in. We personally don’t answer the text and the emails, but there is an option to text for people that don’t want to actually talk. And there’s an option to chat online as well. You go to the Gryphon website, you’ll see that option is available for you there.

Chuck Gaidica:
What led you to this kind of work?

Susanna Rickman:
Kind of a weird story. I started out actually, my degree is in education and I was dealing with some family health issues and wasn’t working for a while and just picked up a part-time job at a crisis housing facility where people stepped down from inpatient treatment and really felt a calling and kind of went from there to case management. I was a case manager contracted through Community Mental Health for five years. And then I needed to take a break because the burnout was so high. And here I am now in the contact center and I’m able to make a difference without having the intense stress of that all day, every day.

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah. But you say that, but there’s got to be intense stress in the contact center, right? I mean, you’re hearing from people that could be right on the edge.

Susanna Rickman:
Yes, and there is stress. Don’t get me wrong. The difference is that at the end of the day I go home and they don’t call my personal cell phone.

Chuck Gaidica:
Oh, I see what you mean. Yeah. And there’s also a personal side to this and I know you don’t mind sharing, but you consider yourself a suicide loss survivor. Why is that? And how did that come about in your life?

Susanna Rickman:
I lost my oldest brother, about five years ago to suicide. It was a shock. There were no signs that anybody can point to or that we felt. Never in my life would I have thought I’d be getting that phone call. And it was a huge eye opener as to that unknown question of why, and that you’ll never know why, no matter how hard you research. I’ve talked to the coroner, I’ve talked to everybody involved in the investigation and no answers.

Chuck Gaidica:
Wow. Well, sometimes history is easier to understand when all the pages have been written, but you’re saying the pages are all written and you still can’t figure out everything that was going on for your brother. That’s got to be tough from a closure standpoint too. Huh?

Susanna Rickman:
It is. It is. Also Gryphon Place offers a, it’s called the SOS Group, and it’s for suicide survivors. And it’s a great way and a community for you to come together and kind of realize that you’re never going to have all the answers, but what can you do to work through that in moving forward in your life?

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah. Did you beat yourself up or do you still, that you wish, especially someone like you, that’s an expert in this field? You wish you saw this coming?

Susanna Rickman:
Yes. There are times when I definitely beat myself up. He was in California. So I quite often use that for my out, that I wasn’t there every day to see him and see what was going on. But yeah, it’s a definite how? Your sister is a Suicide Prevention Specialist. How are you not reaching out? So it’s a big question.

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah. But there are a lot of people that some are famous, some are not. I mean, one of the comes to mind is Rick Warren, Pastor of Saddleback Church. I think it’s out in California and his son, he lost his son to suicide. And you think my gosh, here’s a guy who’s speaking to the rest of America about how to keep your life together and then, something like that happens. So I guess it could happen and seems easy that you would beat up on yourself, but it happens to people in all walks of life.

Susanna Rickman:
You are correct. There is definitely no bias in any way when it comes to suicide. It takes its shape in any and everyone. It’s becoming an epidemic and it needs to be talked about.

Chuck Gaidica:
And then, there’s the notion that sometimes, and I know you can talk about this to help us understand this, for us to keep an eye on, in my case, my wife and I are kind of empty nesters now. But we’ve got five kids and the circles have radiated out to grandkids. So now, I’m kind of keeping an eye on the flock that is still increasing, but you think you should be looking for signs, whether someone’s verbalizing it, whether they’re doing things. In the case of your brother’s circumstance, looking for signs may not have even helped because first of all, he had a distance, but more importantly, there was no indication that something was coming.

Susanna Rickman:
You are correct. Looking back, there are some signs. He was an alcoholic. And quite often when people start drinking heavily or using substances, they’re self-medicating so, retrospect is always 20/20. But that was probably the biggest indicator if I were to think of, wow, that should have given me reason to question a little bit deeper. But for the most part, there are no signs. I mean, there are signs, but not in depth with that situation.

Chuck Gaidica:
So I want to come back to this because I think this is important, especially with all that’s changed for families, with kids at home so much, and the lack of socialization. We call it social distancing. Maybe it should just be physical distancing. We want to make sure, especially kids who want to be kids, go figure. Try to tell them to keep a mask on. But it’s just something that’s changed. It’s a new normal. If we look at what’s been going on, as we’re moving through, we hope toward the end of this pandemic going into next year, as a crisis worker, what are you hearing? What is the feedback you’re getting from your center?

Susanna Rickman:
From the center, or from our callers?

Chuck Gaidica:
Either one. Yeah, yeah.

Susanna Rickman:
I would say the caller is the biggest thing is that fear of unknown. They’re not used to being sitting at home alone, or they’re not used to working from home and that separation, as humans, we need to have that social interaction and contact with others. And that’s kind of become something that’s a privilege now, if you have that opportunity. And a lot of the callers that are calling are lonely and sad and hopeless. And when is this going to end?

Chuck Gaidica:
And can you tell, as you’re speaking to someone on the phone, that me verbalizing to you, for instance, that I feel hopeless or I feel anxiety right now because of what I’m in the midst of, sounds to me on the surface is a little different than, “Hey, I’m going to commit suicide.” Can you tell, as you’re speaking to people, what path they’re kind of headed down sometimes?

Susanna Rickman:
I’ve been in the business for a while. So I have a pretty good gut feeling on it. However, it is something that we ask point blank when someone says that. We say, “It sounds like you’re feeling a little hopeless. Would you say that’s correct?” And we have a series of questions we ask and we ask point blank. “Are you considering suicide?” And anything other than a definite no is a yes in our system that we use for determining things.

Chuck Gaidica:
And for those of us who are not trained, I know I’ve heard this before, and it seems counterintuitive that when someone actually is either going down the path or verbalizes out loud, “I’m contemplating suicide” to deal with it head on, as someone who doesn’t understand what you understand, you have forgotten more than I know about this process. But it sounds like if you directly deal with it, you’re pushing somebody over the edge.

Susanna Rickman:
No, not necessarily. Everybody thinks if you talk about it, it’s going to put it in their head and that’s not true. If it’s in their head, it’s already in their head. One thing that I personally do to kind of tease it out, when someone… We get callers that’ll say, “I want to die.” And I will ask very specific questions to determine whether they really want their life to end, “Goodbye. I’m out.” Or whether they’re feeling so helpless and hopeless that that’s the only option they see. And most of the time I can get them to the point where they are acknowledging that they don’t really want to die. They just don’t know what else to do. And then we work on a plan moving forward to help them.

Chuck Gaidica:
You said something and I’ve heard, I want to take politics out of this for a minute, but I’ve heard various voices say this on either side of the political aisle. I’ve heard people talk about it. And it comes down in my mind to one word and that’s ritual. So you were talking about this idea of how the apple card has been upset in terms of socialization. But you know, the ritual of getting up and going to work has changed. The ritual of dropping the kids off, or the school bus pulling up, has changed. Going to the club to work out, going to worship, going to watch football with your friends on the weekend or on Monday night, whatever it is. Rituals have changed. And I think sometimes change alone just messes with us. Doesn’t it?

Susanna Rickman:
Oh, absolutely. One of the things, so if I get a caller that is feeling that way and working from home, I’ll encourage them to get up like they used to. Take a shower, do their hair, do their makeup, act like it’s a regular day. Instead of going to the office, you’re going to your home office.

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah. And I have to admit to you a bit of a personal story. I’ve talked about this before and we’ve had other experts talk about certain aspects of what you and I are discussing. But I had a dad who suffered from anxiety and depression his whole life. And I came to realize, not only is there a stigma attached to that, but I can’t, even in person much less on the phone, I can’t grab somebody by the shoulders and just go, “Snap out of it.” You just can’t do that with a broken arm or a leg or the kids fall and skin their knee while trying to learn how to ride a bike. It’s a whole different deal. You can’t just tell somebody, “Snap out of it. We’ll put a band-aid on or a cast and everything will be all right tomorrow.”

Susanna Rickman:
Correct. And unfortunately it is a long process. And you know, nowadays a lot of people are suffering in one way or another. You shared the statistics on people that are having some sort of mental health diagnosis. And I don’t think a lot of people realize that anxiety is a mental health situation and a lot of people have anxiety. And it’s how you deal with the anxiety.

Chuck Gaidica:
Well, I think isn’t that a key how you deal with it because we don’t want this to sound completely down and out, that if you are anxious or this is a season that you’re going through, right? I mean, you’re in a season of a pandemic. They were in a season of a dust bowl back in the day. We had the 2008 financial crisis and there is usually, although it sounds kind of glorified to say, there is sun at the end of the tunnel for many people. It isn’t a lifelong issue. It is a season.

Susanna Rickman:
Correct. Correct. With that being said, there is treatment available and you need to make sure that you are following what the doctor’s recommendations are. A lot of times people will say, “I feel better.” And stop taking the medications, not realizing that they feel better because of the medications. So you need to keep that in mind when you’re going through this season.

Chuck Gaidica:
And can’t that be part of the stigma too? You know that you’re a person that’s leading a healthful life and you’re on almond milk and you’re a vegan. And all of a sudden somebody tells you, “Hey, you’ve got to go on meds.” That itself is a bit of a stigma just to think, “Well, I’ve never had to rely on meds in my whole life.”

Susanna Rickman:
Exactly. I quite often, when I go into the classroom especially, I talk to the students about how they wouldn’t make fun of a friend who’s a diabetic and needs to have that insulin balance. And it’s pretty much the same thing with psych meds. It’s a chemical imbalance and you need to even that out. So just like you wouldn’t mock a diabetic, why would you mock someone suffering from mental illness?

Chuck Gaidica:
But for kids, and for adults for that matter, we may not even be privy to the knowledge that somebody is on meds. Right? We may just think that there’s something, I’m going to say this and I may be off base, but we’ve all had a friend in our life that’s a little off. There’s just something a little off. So you’re not really, as kids, you’re not making fun of the fact that you know something about the secret that I’m on meds. You’re just kind of making fun of behavior, which itself is bullying.

Susanna Rickman:
Yes.

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah, and can lead to even more issues. Right?

Susanna Rickman:
Correct. Correct. I have to laugh because I’m that friend that’s kind of off and goofy.

Chuck Gaidica:
Not so far, so we’re good.

Susanna Rickman:
But yeah. If there’s a reason something’s not right and you have a gut feeling about it, speak up. It could just be that they didn’t have breakfast that day and that’s an easy fix. It could be that something’s going on at home and it’s causing them to be off.

Chuck Gaidica:
And what do we do as friends then? I mean, kids are one thing because sometimes it’s tougher for kids in many ways. I know having girls and boys, I always thought the boys would be rougher on each other at school. It turned out to be the girls, go figure. My wife told me it was coming and I thought, “Oh, there’s no way.” But as adults, what do we do to help that person? Even if we discover they’re on meds, et cetera, is it a matter of kind of either physically or otherwise putting your arm around somebody, and walking with them? Is that enough, oftentimes, just to be their friend?

Susanna Rickman:
A lot of times that makes a big difference and acknowledging that there’s nothing wrong with them. I was in a classroom once and we do some role playing and one of the students was the person struggling in the role playing. And he just started crying and had to leave the room. And it was a perfect opportunity for me to talk to the class about moving forward, how would you comfort him? What would you do for him? Are you going to acknowledge him? And so that’s the key, like you said, just kind of put your arm out, offer, “I’m here if you need to talk. I’m not going to force you, but I got you.”

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah, and what’s so great about what you just said, and I applaud a lot of what you do obviously, because you’re really giving of yourself. You may not know the impact of even speaking to the rest of those kids or the kid that walked up to that other kid that left the room in tears some point later in the day, how impactful that is a year from now, a week from now. It may not unfold right before your very eyes, but just being humble and being gracious and being helpful can go a long way.

Susanna Rickman:
Absolutely. And that’s one of the things that we kind of struggle with in the contact center is we’d never know. I don’t know what happens tomorrow. Whereas in case management, I knew if I lost somebody or if I was able to get somebody to a better place. And in the contact center and in the schools, we don’t know. We’re there and we’re gone. So you just got to be optimistic that you were able to make a difference. And if not anything else, you were a listening ear when that person needed someone. And that in itself, you got to be appreciative that you were given the opportunity to talk to them.

Chuck Gaidica:
This conjures up a recollection in my mind, has nothing to do with suicide. But years and years ago, I was a Boy Scout and I was going on a camping trip. And so, my dad drives me to the church, pops the trunk, I’m getting out my backpack and sleeping bag. And here comes one of the more, he’s still a kid, but he’s like a junior assistant scout master. And my dad is standing there waiting for me to kiss him goodbye for the weekend. We were a huggy, kissy family. Right? And in my mind, I’m like, “Oh my gosh, Susanna, oh, I got to kiss my dad.” So I give him a quick kiss, say goodbye. And as we’re walking away, this kid, that’s probably only three years older than me, puts his arm around my shoulder and he says, “Oh, that’s okay. I kiss my dad too. Let’s go have fun this weekend.”

Chuck Gaidica:
It took the edge off immediately. I’ve never been able to find this guy to tell him. This is 50 years ago and I still remember it to this day, how impactful that was. And it took the edge off of that moment for me.

Susanna Rickman:
Absolutely. I think everybody has a similar story. I have a story of a girl that I was in grade school with and a similar situation. Kids were picking on her and I kind of stood there and helped her. And I actually ran into her in a store a couple of years ago. I had no clue who she was. And she came up to me and said, “I know you don’t know me.” But told me her name. I knew the name. And she’s like, “I appreciate you sticking up for me and standing out and taking my hand.” So you never know the impact.

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah, that’s great. Well, I want to talk about this now as being the center of a family. We still have a lot going on even more now in our homes. What are the warning signs that we should be looking for with our kids, with a spouse, it could even be a grandma or grandpa that you’re now living with? It’s all kinds of families are there. What are we looking for in terms of warning signs?

Susanna Rickman:
The best way to say, just in a quick summing, and then I will break it down, is anything different. If you see someone that’s withdrawing a little bit more than they used to, you see someone who’s all of a sudden joking sarcastically about things that they normally don’t, that is saying point blank. Sometimes people will say point blank, “I’m miserable. I don’t like this. I’m unhappy.” And kind of go from there. You’ll see someone who might start journaling more because they’re writing down their thoughts and feelings and that’s a positive coping skill, but it also can be a sign that something’s going on and they have intimate thoughts they don’t want to verbalize with somebody.

Susanna Rickman:
So there’s a lot of different things. In our center we use the motto: when in doubt, call it out. So if you have a concern, reach out. You don’t have to be the person in crisis to call a crisis hotline. If you called us, it’s a crisis. So I encourage people to call all the time. If you have questions, whatever, if you think there’s something going on. We get parents that will call and say, “You know my child just isn’t right. And I don’t know what to do.”

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah. And that can also be something as overt as actions. Like I know some parents I’ve talked to, they were afraid, things were getting a little dark. There was kind of a, I don’t mean goth in the sense of how you dress, but a dark art and keeping the lights off in a room. There was a change, a shift in their kid’s behavior. They became very concerned.

Susanna Rickman:
Absolutely. And those are the little things that you need to monitor and look at and talk about why is it dark in there? I noticed your lights are off all the time. Are you not feeling well? Like what’s going on? Talk to them, have a conversation.

Chuck Gaidica:
And is that literally how we approach the start of this? Is to just sit down, you’ve got to begin to start something, right? So do you just sit down with somebody, whether they’re an adult or a kid and start to talk about through questionings and reflective listening, like what’s going on?

Susanna Rickman:
Absolutely. If somebody has more concerns on it, there is a really good resource online. It’s reportingonsuicide.org. And that kind of gives you a way to work through it. But yes, ask the question. Do not be afraid to say it. I was in a Catholic school doing one of my suicide prevention trainings, and the students in there didn’t want to say the S word. And I made them say it as loud as they could repeatedly. Suicide, suicide, suicide. Talk about it, bring it up. Talk about it freely in your family. Don’t make it a taboo like it’s a naughty word. It’s not. It needs to be talked about. And I know with me, because of what I do, one of my nieces reached out to me a couple of years ago because she had a friend who was struggling and she didn’t know what to do. So she called me and was like, “I don’t know what to do. What do I do?” Ask someone for help. Talk about it is the key.

Chuck Gaidica:
And when it comes to kids, I know you have this experience, you’ve mentioned it a couple of times and you’re an expert in this, in youth suicide prevention. When you go to speak to kids at schools, or even when we’re thinking of it at home, is there an age that’s… I guess what is the age that it’s appropriate to start to have this discussion as parents, first of all?

Susanna Rickman:
You know, I think that’s kind of a situation where it’s a case by case. I mean, obviously you don’t want to go to a two year old and start talking about suicide, but I think that it’s important to have a conversation. I have a friend that I spend a lot of time with and she has a five-year-old and a 10 year old. And the 10 year old and I talk about it frequently and the five-year-old’s not in there asking questions, but he has a good idea of it and kind of a concept. And it doesn’t seem naughty to him. So, obviously you want to make sure your child’s mature enough to understand the conversation and it’s not scary and going to cause more trauma. But as soon as you can talk about it with them, “Do you have any friends that you’re worried about?” You could approach it that way, if you’re worried about your child, but have the conversation.

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah. And relative to this idea that you’re going through it, that it’s touched your family’s life, that could also be the touch point, right? It may not be somebody in your immediate family. Could be a neighbor, could be somebody that was high profile that got publicized, that you were a fan of. That happens a lot. Those could be touchpoints and I guess a segue into a discussion.

Susanna Rickman:
Absolutely. And that’s a great way to do it. Gryphon Place is the coordinating body for the Kalamazoo County Suicide Prevention Action Network, and the tagline is talk about it, save a life. And so the key to take away from there is to talk about it.

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah, and once again, talking about it based on research and your experience for sure does not push people over the edge on this idea. If it’s already in their head, it’s there.

Susanna Rickman:
Correct. That is a huge misconception about it. And that kind of goes along with the stigma of mental illness. The more it’s talked about, the less stigma there’ll be, and the more it’s talked about, the more people will know options to avoid it.

Chuck Gaidica:
And this idea of talking about it, I know you’ve mentioned this a couple of times now just while we’ve been talking, your crisis hotline and crisis hotlines all across America and all across Michigan are available for those of us who may be hearing this reflected back to us. Not necessarily the person who’s struggling with a mental health issue directly. And I know because I’ve read about this before at least. There are people who have these thoughts that will use that as a weapon against a spouse. If you don’t stop doing something, I’m going to take myself out or some crazy kind of claim like that. It gets used over and over almost as if it’s… Oh, I guess it is, it’s abuse. It’s verbal abuse and emotional abuse of a spouse or otherwise.

Susanna Rickman:
Yes. However, and it’s something that I try to talk about with people, is that if someone’s making those comments, it’s in their head.

Chuck Gaidica:
It’s still serious.

Susanna Rickman:
Yeah. And that’s how they’re used to getting their needs met. And so when they’re talking about it, then maybe you need to have a conversation of, “Okay, I understand you’re talking about this and I take this serious. So talk to me more about it. Where can we get you support?” It’s still, people joke about it and it’s not funny. And if you’re joking about it, it’s probably because the thought’s crossed your mind somewhere.

Chuck Gaidica:
And you’ve said something there, we’ve kind of talked about the idea of talking about it. But the next step after talking is then to suggest I will go with you. I will help you. Maybe you should call a crisis line. What are the progressive steps we should be thinking about after we’ve talked about it and opened up the subject?

Susanna Rickman:
You want to make sure that you’re there for them. And you want to make sure that they know that you’re there for them. In Kalamazoo, we have several partnerships as well. And there’s trainings on safe talk, as well as we have an assist training available. If someone wanted to get more information about that, they could go to the Gryphon Place website and they are able to find out more resources and ways to deal with it.

Chuck Gaidica:
And is that a list that’s pretty healthy then? So it would give us a lot of options or we could do what you’re suggesting, call and talk about it with somebody on a crisis hotline.

Susanna Rickman:
Absolutely. When in doubt call and I can’t stress that enough. It is a crisis line, but define crisis. What’s a crisis for me might not be a crisis for you. So I try really hard to change it from being a suicide hotline, to being a crisis hotline.

Chuck Gaidica:
And in your recent experience, let’s double back to that for just a minute. We may have talked about it in a way, what are you hearing the most of right now? Is it this idea of rituals? How life has changed? You’re not going to work. Is that what it is? Or is there anything else that we’re missing that you’re hearing a lot about right now in this season?

Susanna Rickman:
I would say probably the main things are the lack of ritual, the isolation and the fear. People are afraid. Someone doesn’t feel well and they call and they’re feeling suicidal and we recommend they go to the ER. They don’t want to go to the ER because they don’t want to get sick. So it’s a big problem right now in that people even might’ve gone for treatment prior, don’t want to go because they’re afraid of other things.

Chuck Gaidica:
And if, God forbid, we are faced with someone in the house who the crisis is there, it’s present, they’re so far out on the edge of the cliff that they’re about to do something. It’s not calling 911 for an ambulance. Is it calling the police? Literally, what are we supposed to do?

Susanna Rickman:
Well, the first thing I always recommend is that you give a call to Lifeline, which it’s easy. It’s 1-800-273-TALK, or 8255. And you can talk to us and we’ll kind of advise you how to go through it. A lot of times we’ll ask to speak to the person. And then, if you are able to reach out for help, we will encourage you to do that. To ask for a welfare check. If you are not able to, then we will connect with emergency rescue. A lot of people think, “Well, I called. Now it’s on my record. And it’s a huge…” It’s not on your record. You’re not going to go to jail because you called the police because you thought a friend was going to harm themselves. You’re calling and asking for a welfare check and that’s okay to do.

Chuck Gaidica:
And there is the possibility, and maybe it’s just that this makes headlines more often than not, that the suicide turns into something else with the family involved as well. So if you’re feeling threatened, obviously that would be the same kind of call to 911, that if you feel threatened yourself by somebody who’s suicidal, you need to make sure you’re getting help for you and your family.

Susanna Rickman:
Absolutely. That’s one of the questions we ask. Do you feel that they’re a danger to themselves or someone else? Because it could impact somebody else in a harmful way other than just the grief.

Chuck Gaidica:
I don’t know that I’m looking for an actual number, but of the calls that you tend to get at Gryphon Place, what is the percentage would you guess of people who are calling on behalf of themselves? And then that are calling on behalf of somebody else?

Susanna Rickman:
I would say probably 25% are somebody calling on behalf of somebody else. And the rest of them are actual people calling. We get a lot of times people they’ll call together because the person was afraid to call. So they’ll call us together, which is great. That’s showing a friend willing to be there and getting that person some support and help that they need.

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah. And this idea that continues to weave this thread in my mind as we’re talking, the word stigma. How much stigma is involved in so many different stairsteps in this process. Someone has got to admit there’s a problem. Then you, as a spouse or a friend, are hearing about it and you may go home. In their minds, they’re conjuring up, “Well, now you’re going to tell all of our friends.”

Chuck Gaidica:
I just watched a documentary on Robin Williams’ life. I was a huge fan. The guy was a genius and there’s a doc out right now about the last months of his life. And he committed suicide at the end and it turned out through autopsy, they could get some results and found out that he had Lewy Body Dementia and that was messing with his mind. So yeah, there could have been some kind of drug therapy to offset this, but in essence, here was somebody who was brilliant and was suffering to the end. And there were still questions in the family. What, especially for somebody who’s dealt with this, what do you offer up in terms of trying to deal with something after the fact, if again, God forbid, somebody commits suicide?

Susanna Rickman:
If you are someone who knows someone and they died by suicide, the biggest thing is to talk about it with somebody, to not be ashamed. I quite often recommend that people find some sort of support group. I know for me, because I worked in mental health, I was a little ashamed. I’m not going to lie. And I felt a lot of blame and people were going to be like, “Well, that’s what she does. How did she not see it?” I ended up joining an online group that I was able to talk. It was very nice. It’s separated out into siblings, spouse, parents. So you talk to people that had been in your shoes and kind of helped you to better understand it. And I chose to turn it around and make it a positive and kind of keep fighting for no one else to feel that way. So it kind of depends on the person and how they deal with it. But talk about it, talk to someone.

Chuck Gaidica:
And there is grief support. There’s paid professionals. There are hospices that have free grief support lines. There are the groups that you speak of that are organized or otherwise, or maybe just organized through a Facebook group. So there are a lot of resources that, until you look, you may not know that they’re even out there.

Susanna Rickman:
Exactly. And I know for me, I liked the idea of kind of the anonymous ness of being online and nobody really knowing me locally.

Chuck Gaidica:
Oh, interesting. Yeah. And did that help you? I mean, as you went through that process, were you able to find some peace?

Susanna Rickman:
Absolutely. It was very nice to talk to somebody else. I do have another brother and he and I talk quite frequently about it and are very close about it. But you also don’t want to necessarily trigger someone else’s grief that you’re close to. So for me, it was great being able to talk to people that didn’t know me and didn’t know the story.

Chuck Gaidica:
Well, I lost both of my parents last year in the last calendar year. And there are three siblings, and then we all have kids and family. But in the three, you come to learn that everybody grieves differently, right?

Susanna Rickman:
Absolutely. There is no bottle way of how someone grieves. People do that in different ways. Some people that are grieving talk about it. Some people don’t talk about it. Some people have their select group and it’s different for everyone and it’s okay to grieve in your time and your way.

Chuck Gaidica:
Well, I’m really happy we got a chance to connect. It’s a real tough subject. It’s difficult for people of all ages. And sometimes these things are high profile and that even adds another layer of complication, I’m sure, to families and people around. But as we start to wrap up, what are some takeaways you would suggest in order or out of order of things we should be thinking about, especially in this time, as we’re looking inwardly at ourselves and at friends and family around us?

Susanna Rickman:
One thing that I always challenge people to do is to reach out and call the Lifeline or the helpline, even if you aren’t in crisis. So that way, when you are, or you know someone who is, you don’t feel as uncomfortable making that call. You kind of have understanding of what’s going to happen and how they talk to you. And the biggest thing is to be there for each other and to pay attention to them and listen, and actively listen to what they’re saying to you. And help! When in doubt, call it out.

Chuck Gaidica:
And helping, do you find that you’ve talked to people yourself and you have this personal experience that someone felt they didn’t help enough and they wish they would have? So if that’s what your wish is taking your advice and just kind of getting at it may be best advice?

Susanna Rickman:
Absolutely. Absolutely. I would say probably the toughest calls that I personally take are the parents and they want to know why? What did I do? And it’s nothing they did. They didn’t do anything wrong. It just happens. And unfortunately, it happened to them.

Chuck Gaidica:
And later down the road, when you come to see maybe not someone in the supermarket or someplace, where they tell you you did something nice back in the day, but you must hear from people who you’ve come across in your life, who there is peace, comfort, and even joy longer lasting than happiness. But somewhere down the road, they’re able to come out of this again. And you never forget it, but yet, they are able to find some of this peace and comfort and joy in their lives.

Susanna Rickman:
Absolutely. And we do get occasional callers that will call and say, “I don’t know who it was I talked to last week, but I was on the end and they changed my life. And I just want to say, thank you.”

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah. Well, let me just say thank you on behalf of anybody who’s listening and we don’t know how that may be. This may just be Providence that somebody grabbed their phone and put in some earbuds and they’re going to be walking around listening to this, or purposefully they’re looking for it. But Susanna Rickman, we want to thank you for all you do and your team there at Gryphon Place. And you’ve mentioned a lot of resources, so we’ll try to get those numbers and all of that stuff in the show notes. So everybody can have access to it. Thank you so much for your time today, too.

Susanna Rickman:
Thank you so much for having me and for putting a spotlight on this.

Chuck Gaidica:
Oh, happy to do it. Susanna Rickman, who is a crisis worker and then some at Gryphon Place. And remember, Susanna pointed out, there are resources that are not just there at Gryphon Place, but all across the country and our state of Michigan as well. We want to thank you for listening to A Healthier Michigan podcast. It’s brought to you by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. If you like the show, you want to learn more, you can go online, first of all, to ahealthiermichigan.org/podcast. You can leave us reviews or ratings on Apple Podcast and Stitcher. You can get new episodes, old episodes on your smartphone or tablet. Be sure to subscribe to us on Apple Podcast, Spotify, your favorite podcast app.

Chuck Gaidica:
And remember we’ve got stuff on wellness and deep breathing and meditation, maybe ways to take the edge off of anxiety and depression before you get to a place where you’ve got some trouble in your life. We want everybody to be well. Thanks for joining us. I’m Chuck Gaidica.