As suicide rates continue to rise throughout the nation, especially among young people, one local Washtenaw County family is working to help those in need access services.
Suicide rates increased 33 percent nationally from 1999 to 2017, with the sharpest increase since 2006. Young adults and teenagers are at the greatest risk--research in 2019 found rates among teenagers and young adults are significantly increasing, while rates among older populations are stable. In Washtenaw County, the local Health Department found a 26 percent increase in deaths by suicides from 2018 to 2019 and in 2018, almost 16 percent of local teenagers reported on a voluntary survey that they had seriously considered suicide, versus only 11 percent in 2010.
For Julie and Scott Halpert, the founders of Garrett’s Space, this crisis is personal. In 2017, they lost their 23-year-old son, Garrett, to suicide after watching him struggle to find the resources he needed. They founded Garrett’s Space with the goal of creating a holistically focused center for young adults in crisis–the sort of place they think might have saved Garrett’s life.
But the Halperts and their team aren’t waiting until their center is built to begin making a difference in Washtenaw County. While they continue to fundraise for their center, they’ve organized a campaign to get vital information into the hands of people who need it. Their method: posting the information on residents’ doors.
With the help of 170 volunteers, Garrett’s Space distributed 20,000 door tags to homes across Washtenaw County. They covered approximately 80 percent of homes in Ypsilanti and 75 percent in Ann Arbor. The door tags listed resources for people in crisis, including emergency rooms, local mental health resources, and national call or text hotlines. They also distributed a few thousand cards with the same information to schools, religious organizations, and medical buildings.
Garrett’s Space hopes delivering this information to the doorstep of struggling individuals might help them take the essential step of reaching out for help. The organizations on the door tags save lives. While many people believe that suicide ideation or serious mental health crises can’t be cured, research shows that calling a crisis line can have a significant impact, and with proper treatment struggling individuals can heal and thrive. Accessing the resources on the door tag could be the first step towards healing for Washtenaw County residents.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made these services even more vital. In June 2020, a CDC study found that 40 percent of adults were struggling with mental health or substance use, and 11 percent were seriously considering suicide. The percentage of respondents seriously considering suicide was significantly higher among minority racial and ethnic groups, caregivers for adults, essential workers – and young adults aged 18-24, the group that Garrett’s Space focuses on. These high rates are caused by the isolation, fear, and grief of the pandemic, but it’s unlikely that the numbers will return to normal when the pandemic is over. The recession predicted to follow the pandemic will likely cause elevated suicide rates itself. In the coming months, the information on the door tags could be lifesaving to more residents than ever.
Garrett’s Space continues to fundraise and seek volunteers for their projects. If you’re interested in contributing or learning more about their work, you can find more information on their website.
If you or someone you know is experiencing a crisis, please call the CARES access line at 734-544-3050, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Washtenaw Alive has a resource list of organizations that can help.