“We are the survivors,” Cools said after being asked to provide immediate advice that people can use to increase their mental state. “Take care of your DNA.”
Cools explained a practice called sub-hypnotic suggestion during the panel presentation at the Grand Haven Community Center. Simply make contact with someone who is suicidal, he instructed, and suggest something they cannot deny. By doing this, you can reduce the likelihood of suicide by 50 percent.
The act of touch is extremely powerful, Cools said.
Practices like this and others were shared at the town hall meeting, which came about when Extended Grace organizers heard concerns from Grand Haven residents about mental health in the past few years. Beginning in January 2016, the non-profit organization began hosting events and forums to increase awareness of mental health illnesses and break the stigma that surrounds them.
Extended Grace has no religious or political affiliations, but it wants to “improve the world by extending grace to each other,” according to its brochure.
According to a 2017 Ottawa County needs assessment, mental health has not improved since 2011. The data shows that 17.1 percent of Ottawa County adults have depressive disorder and 24 percent of area youth report depression in the past year.
The report also says that mental health issues haven’t gotten better because there is a lack of programs, services, funding and therapists. Also, there is a stigma that surrounds mental health issues that may prevent some people from seeking help in those areas.
Panelists at Tuesday’s forum included Cools, Dr. Michael Weiss, Monica Verplank with the North Ottawa Wellness Foundation, therapist Rebecca Neil and Sandy Parker of On the Path Yoga in Spring Lake.
Many of the panelists mentioned “fight or flight” mode — mental health jargon for making stressful situations confrontational or avoiding stressful situations altogether. Weiss, owner of Weiss Chiropractic Wellness Center in Spring Lake, said it comes when a person is completely bombarded with stress.
“(Stress) puts our nervous system into this state of fight or flight,” Weiss explained. “It is a huge trigger leading to all kinds of health factors from pain to high blood pressure.”
Extended Grace Executive Director Barbara Lee VanHorssen was happy with the turnout of Tuesday’s town hall meeting. She was expecting around 60 residents, but received a final count of 82.
Multiple vendors attended the event to promote their alternative mental health solutions — everything to equine-assisted psychotherapy, where individuals interact with horses, to float therapy in the water.