August 20, 2019

Finding hope for a hurting community

Sudden deaths leave community reeling


WEST BRANCH - West Branch-Rose City Area Schools and the West Branch community are trying to find hope to ease the pain after learning of the sudden deaths of two students two days apart and the near loss of another.

The school began assembling its crisis response team late afternoon Nov. 5. The crisis team is composed of counselors, social workers, advisers, teachers, administrators and law enforcement officials.

A counselor the district has previously turned to is 30-year industry veteran Barb Smith of Barb Smith Suicide Resource Response Network, who is offering advice for the grieving community.

Smith said while the community doesn't know the specifics of the tragic deaths, what is known is the complexity of behaviors leading up to suicide.

Now more than ever the community needs to come together and show its love and strength.

Smith said if anyone has any concerns, they should reach out for help.

AuSable Valley Community Mental Health is offering additional time to anyone in the community that needs support.

"We had staff at the high school yesterday as a result of the bad events," Chief Clinical Officer Teresa Tokarczyk said. "We are trying to ramp up our emergency response. As we got the news we knew we needed do more."

Tokarczyk said AVCMH's West Branch facility will be staffing at least two mental health professionals at its facility around the clock from now until 5 p.m. Nov. 12.

"Children and families function around the clock," she said. "Our West Branch office will be staffed are available for people to walk in and chat."

Tokarczyk said the service is offered free to the public and will require nothing more than a name, address and phone number for emergency purposes. The counseling services are open to children, adults and families. No appointment is necessary.

"They can just walk in and say they want to talk to somebody," she said.

Signs of possible suicidal thoughts include:


  • Changes in behavior
  • Drop in grades
  • Isolation
  • Increased anger
  • Being quiet

Smith said because many people will not exhibit all or any of these unique behaviors, it is important for parents to have an open conversation with their children and ask if they have ever had such thoughts.

"It is time for us to start talking openly to each other," she said. "When we are hurting or when feeling alone we need to start reaching out and asking for help.

Smith said if anyone is having suicidal thoughts, they should reach out to the suicide hotline by calling 800-273-TALK or texting 741741. Other resources families might find helpful include, and AuSable Valley Community Mental Health is located at 511 Griffin Rd., West Branch. They can be reached by phone at 989-345-5571.

"Sit down and play a board game," Smith urged. "Shut off your phone. Shut off your TV. Make a change and form a connection."


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