This Local Couple Is Working to Reduce the Stigma of Suicide With the Hope of Saving Lives

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The sad statistics of suicide hit close to home for John and Gail Urso of Grosse Pointe Park. Their 41-year-old son, Kevin, struggled with depression and took his life in March 2013. “When Kevin died we didn’t know any of this, says Gail about the statistics. “We were shocked.”

The couple turned to support groups, including Survivors of Suicide, and other local and national groups. But they wanted to know more. “Unfortunately, there’s still a shame and stigma to suicide. This has allowed it to remain under the radar,” John says.

Now, Gail and John are working to change all that with Kevin’s Song, founded in 2013. It’s a not-for-profit group dedicated to their son, who loved music. “We will always wonder, had we known more about suicide, its causes and possible methods of prevention, might we have been able to help Kevin?” they say in their mission statement. “We will never know the answer to that question. We do know, however, that there is a great need to spread the word that suicide occurs among men and women of all ages, that it crosses all racial, ethnic and religious lines and that it occurs at all economic levels of society. We also know that the general public needs to be more aware of the facts about suicide and mental illness.”

The group’s goal is to generate awareness about the causes of suicide, its prevalence in society and possible preventive measures. “If we didn’t know any of this, then neither do others,” explains Gail. “We want to create a working community of professionals and advocates that will be an important resource in the metropolitan Detroit area offering knowledge, hope and healing to individuals, families and communities touched by suicide.”

Since Kevin’s death, the couple has built a website, kevinssong.org. They have sponsored a conference with national and state experts and area professionals. They have also worked with documentarian Keith Famie on a film, “Death is NOT the Answer.” (Famie is a local chef and former contestant on the television show "Survivor.")

They have joined with local groups like Henry Ford Health System’s Division of Behavioral Health, which in 2001 started its Perfect Depression Care. This led to the “Zero Suicide Program.” Evaluation at Henry Ford Behavioral Health Services is standardized. Every adult patient seen in behavioral health is screened for depression and anxiety. Every patient is asked about the risk factors for suicide. The Health System has cut the suicide rate among its HAP population dramatically.

And the program has become a model for groups around the country. Dr. Doree Ann Espiritu, a psychiatrist with Henry Ford Health System, spoke at the 2016 conference and has worked with the Ursos since they founded Kevin’s Song. “When people ask: Can you really expect to prevent all suicides? Our answer is, we have to do everything we can to identify the suicide risks,” said Espiritu. “If we say we’re okay with five suicides a year, one of those might be your sister, your son or your friend. Our goal must be zero.”
A caring conference

The second annual conference on suicide information and intervention will be held Nov. 9-11 at The Inn at St.John’s in Plymouth. There will be sessions for health care professionals, first responders, educators, parents, students, veterans and active military. Sessions for survivors will touch on coping with loss and grief. There will be a healing ceremony at the conference’s closing. For more information, visit kevinssong.org.

The organization’s activities, say the Ursos, include training people to be active listeners and helping them see red flags. They compare the lack of suicide awareness to the time when cancer wasn’t openly discussed. “Hopefully, Kevin’s Song will foster more open discussion of mental health issues and suicide and that, ultimately, lives with be saved,” they say. “We still have a long way to go, but by being open and talking about it, things will start to change for the better.”

To find out about the Henry Ford Health System's Zero Suicide Program, go to henryford.com.

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For mental health help, contact HAP's Coordinated Behavioral Health Management Department at (800) 444-5755.


*Statistics from American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

Categories: Get Healthy

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