Student summit aims to reduce teen suicide numbers


ZEELAND, Mich. (WOOD) — Rapper and mental health educator Rick Chyme uses lyrics inspired by his own struggles to get his message across.

“Pressing the gas, could never stand for finishing last, anticipates hearing the crash,” he rapped as he crosses the stage at Zeeland East’s DeWitt Auditorium Monday morning.

Personal tragedy – like the death of his father in an airplane crash when Chyme was 15 – and successes, like his playing time as a Western Michigan University Bronco basketball player, made up Chyme’s teen and early adult years.

He struggled, never realizing his own issues until he began working as a mental health educator.

“Had I got it at a younger age, maybe my path might have been different,” Chyme said. “The stigma of mental illness has been, in the past, presented as something that is almost a disqualification from participating in life, and that’s not the case.”

Getting that message across to students as a way to recognize and deal with their own problems and the problems of others was all part of the first annual Student Summit on Suicide Prevention.

Students from 11 Ottawa County school districts took part in the summit at Zeeland East High School.

“I definitely think it’s a lot easier when you’re talking to your peers about something like this, because everyone can relate,” said Zeeland East High School Senior Grace Forster.

The summit is designed to go beyond the basics of suicide prevention among students.

“What we should be talking about is recognizing the signs and symptoms of depression at the onset of the disorder, so it doesn’t get to the point where it’s so serious [that] somebody is actually contemplating to take their life,” said Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan Executive Director Christy Buck.

Buck said 50 percent of mental health disorders occur by the age of 14. But early intervention can go a long way at preventing life-long struggles that could lead to tragedy.

“We’re talking to kids about don’t smoke. Why not smoke? You could get cancer, it could be addictive. Okay, let’s talk about depression and the sign and the symptoms,” Buck said.

Ottawa County recorded two suicides by individuals under the age of 19 in 2016. That matches the average over the last six years.

But the Ottawa County Health Department’s 2015 Youth Assessment Survey shows 12 percent of 8th, 10th and 12th graders in Ottawa School Districts made plans to commit suicide. And 6.4 percent went through with those plans.

“I think we still have a lot of work to do,” Buck said. “And that is to empower [kids] to recognize when they are struggling.”


Online:Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan

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