It was a late October evening when an audience of 150 gathered at the State Theatre in downtown Bay City for a screening of the critically-acclaimed film: “Coming up for Air,” co-hosted by The Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance, Michigan Health Improvement Alliance, Great Lakes Bay Region Mental Health Partnership and the State Theatre. The film was not your average movie and the audience was not typical either. Focusing on mental health, this independent and multiple award-winning film made by local Michigan filmmakers, was attended by physicians, mental health professionals, community providers, law enforcement and the courts – but perhaps most significantly – members of the Great Lakes Bay Region community affected by mental health.

In the fictional film, the main character, a star athlete, begins to have emotional difficulties due to the pressures of academics and high-performing athletics. The film details the decline of the character’s mental health and the pivotal role of his mother in this difficult situation. The very real possibility of suicide, and the events leading up to such an elevated and painful level of despair, are a large part of the film’s plot and message.

After the film, organizers held an open discussion led by a panel of uniquely qualified individuals:

  • Mike Gomez, Saginaw County Undersheriff
  • Kate Collins, LMSW CAADC, Child and Adolescent Therapist
  • Barb Smith, Executive Director, Barb Smith Suicide Resource and Response Center
  • Matisa Berry, Parent Advocate for Mental Health

The discussion focused on four primary points:

  • Ending the stigma of seeking assistance for mental illness or emotional difficulty;
  • The crisis level of suicide in our country;
  • The warning signs for severe distress that could lead to suicide;
  • Where to seek help in the Great Lakes Bay region.

The panel openly discussed the stigma of receiving mental health services and acknowledged that many people are afraid of negative judgment that surrounds speaking to a therapist. According to  panelist Kate Collins, “If there’s one thing I’d like the community to be aware of regarding mental health, it would be that struggling with your mental health from time-to-time, or even long-term, is a normal, common occurrence– just like getting a cold or having a chronic health issue. I’d like us to reach a point in our communities where getting help during those times is viewed as just as “normal” and as common as going to the doctor if you’re feeling under the weather or managing a chronic illness.”

The panel also discussed the warning signs of mental illness and what to do when you see them.

“Look for significant behavior change, lack of sleep, and feelings of being overwhelmed,”  Barb Smith noted. “If you have a worry, that is a sign in itself. Just be direct and ask what’s going on and how you can help. Let them know that there are services to provide a better quality of life–and make the phone call with them.”

Help is definitely needed when specific behaviors, particularly when timed with a painful event, or large life change, include:

  • Talking about wanting to die or to kill themselves
  • Looking for a way to kill themselves, like searching online or buying a gun
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or isolating themselves
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Extreme mood swings

Other risk factors for suicide. These include:

  • History of trauma or abuse
  • Mental disorders, particularly mood disorders, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, and certain personality disorders
  • Alcohol and other substance use disorders
  • Hopelessness
  • Impulsive and/or aggressive tendencies
  • Major physical illnesses
  • Previous suicide attempt(s)
  • Family history of suicide
  • Job or financial loss
  • Loss of relationship(s)
  • Easy access to lethal means
  • Local clusters of suicide
  • Lack of social support and sense of isolation

Matisa Berry, a parent advocate of mental health, spoke about her daughter who died by suicide after suffering with mental illness and depression, diagnosed in her junior year of high school. A caring, loving, very bright, and talented athlete, her daughter excelled both academically and athletically, even obtaining a college scholarship.

Unlike the rest of the country, in Great Lakes Bay region, there has been a significant increase in the availability of mental health services. “There has been an uptick in resources. Every time we turn around, there is another resource willing to help,” stated Undersheriff Mike Gomez.

The film’s producer, Roger Rapoport, was very pleased with the community-building at the screening. When asked about the event, he stated, “The screening highlighted community access to first-class mental health resources. The audience was grateful to learn about the wide range of readily available services. The presence of these local groups helps eliminate the stigma of mental health treatment and encourages people to get care for depression and other challenges.”

“Everyone can make a difference, we all play a role in suicide prevention and mental illness awareness,” said Smith.

Where to text or call for Help:

Text BELONG to 741741, Crisis Text Line is free, 24/7 support for those in crisis.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline:  1-800-273-8255

Additional Local Resources: