New DeVos Children’s program focuses on teen suicide

Helen DeVos Children's Hospital adds clinical nurse specialist to work with families

(File photo)


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Shandy Longcore was depressed, didn’t feel pretty, when she sneaked into her parents’ basement and grabbed a hunting rifle.

She was 10.

“I loaded it, I pointed it at my chest and I pulled the trigger,” she said.

Emergency room doctors were able to patch up the entrance and exit wounds.

“They took care of all of my physical needs; it was the mental need that was the missing link, and that’s why today is such a big day,” Longcore said.

Shandy Longore
A courtesy image of Shandy Longcore around the age of 10.

That was 20 years ago. On Thursday, Longcore, of Rockford, was at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids to help announce a new program paid for by “i understand,” a nonprofit that focuses on suicide prevention.

It will allow the hospital to pay for a clinical nurse specialist who will work with families with children who have committed or tried to commit suicide.

The nurse will also help train nurses in working with families — a need that has never been greater.

In Michigan, 16 percent of teens seriously consider suicide, according to a 2015 study. One in 11 attempts it. In 2014, the most recent year for which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have data, it was the second leading cause of death for children and adults ages 10 to 34.

“Here at the Helen DeVos emergency room, we’ve seen kids coming in with mental health conditions, and their numbers have almost quadrupled since 2012,” said Dr. Beth Kowal, pediatric behavioral medicine section chief at DeVos.

Vonnie Woodrick created the “i understand” organization after her husband took his own life 14 years ago.

“I thought death by suicide was something a crazy person did,” Woodrick said. “But now, we know death by suicide is a side effect of an illness, so we need to treat all mental health issues like illnesses, and that’s why we’re here in the hospital setting.”

The new specialist, Ashleigh Kearns, said the care won’t end after the family leaves the ER.

“As a community, we have the opportunity to, number one, decrease the stigma, but we also have the opportunity to change the role and say we’re going to make this a priority in our Children’s Hospital and in our community,” Kearns said.

—–

Resources:

i understand

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1.800.273.8255

Find mental health treatment resources near you

West Michigan Mental Health Foundation

Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide

CDC: Suicide prevention