Steve Inskeep woke me up way too early this morning. No, I haven’t thrown over my husband for someone new. For those of you who aren’t familiar with him, he sounds way too chipper to have been up for hours as the host of Morning Edition on NPR. With Daylight Savings Time this weekend, theoretically, we all got 1 more hour of sleep last night, but in reality, I spent 1 more hour awake, and started yawning as soon as darkness fell. Now it really feels like autumn has arrived, and winter is coming ;-).
The news is filled at this time of year with the same stories from last year about whether or not we should continue with Daylight Savings Time. As we are among those who have eschewed cable TV for streaming services and the local evening news is filled with hype-filled emptiness, I like to get my news as I get ready for the work day and on my drive in to the hospital. This morning, the words “in Detroit” made my head snap towards the radio. Having trained in Detroit, and grown up driving “Downtown” to the RenCen and Hart Plaza, I miss my old city. I never knew it in its glory day. The Detroit I knew was already worn around the edges. The grand architecture which makes it an attraction for photographers, film makers, and crazy tiger owners, is crumbling and the infrastructure which has been neglected for so long is struggling to take care of the residents of my former city.
What I heard today though wasn’t yet another mock-sad exploitation of the dark days of Detroit. Instead it celebrated the success of a program implemented to bring suicide levels to 0%. No, that is not a typo. The goal of the program was actually to prevent suicides and thus bring the suicide rate down to 0. Now anyone who’s every been at a meeting, no matter where it is, whether for work or the PTO or your local library guild, can imagine the silence that most likely followed that proposal. The thinking among a lot of health care workers and psychologists is that it is impossible to prevent every suicide. This is a growing problem among veterans all over the country, and one that has been highlighted in the media as an example of how the VA is failing our wounded warriors. As one of those left behind to question why, any reduction in the suicide rate is a miracle.
This is the first I’ve heard of any success stories, and this is truly a success, and has been for many years. After embracing the idea, which must have taken a complete paradigm shift, the Henry Ford Health System, the same one that took care of my family for years, was able to achieve their goal for at least 2 years. In 2009, the suicide rate among the high-risk mental health population was zero. Even now, it is 80% lower than before the start of the program. And this was during the heart of the recession, when there were plenty of factors to make anyone depressed, plenty of reasons that someone might look into the heart of darkness, and decide the pain and shadows are too much to bear any longer.
How did this happen? Henry Ford Health system is not situated in a rich community filled with deep pocket books. When I trained there, most patients were on Medicaid or some type of assistance. Though the people I worked with were all hard-working, dedicated professionals, they are no different from health care providers here, or anywhere I believe. The answer, I think, lies in turning upside down the presumption that nothing can be done, and aiming for complete eradication of the problem of suicide. And though a complete analysis of this phenomenon hasn’t occurred yet, all signs point to the possibility that the extensive work put into achieving these results has actually saved this medical system money. While we have politicians spouting sound bites about how broken our health care system is, in Detroit, a symbol of decay and decline, some big dreamers actually are making a difference in patients’ lives, and managing not to make the bottom line worse.
Why isn’t this story all over the news at night instead of Donald Trump’s unnatural hair do? I think it is because we have a tendency to focus on the negative and the darkness. In optical illusions, we have to train our eyes to see beyond the negative spaces. To see what is right there in front of us waiting to be revealed, we need to let go of our preconceived notions, and be open to a new perspective.
What can we do on this Feast of All Souls, to turn away from our old familiar friend darkness and negativity? For me, I’ll start with welcoming the light of morning, instead of mourning the darkness that comes too soon. I’m thankful today for all those in Detroit working hard to make the impossible possible, for news that manages to highlight positive stories, and for the blessing of warm covers on chilly mornings.