By Shannon Traphagen
Suicide is not an easy topic to talk about. Neither is addiction—especially during what should be a festive, jolly time of year. But, for some, the holiday season is the toughest time of year.
According to the CDC, since 2006, the suicide rate has risen more than 33 percent, ranking as the fourth leading cause of death for people ages 35 to 54, the second for 10- to 34-year-olds, and the 10th leading cause of death overall. It is these statistics, and the experience of losing their son Michael to suicide, that compelled Avi and Julie Israel to establish Save the Michaels of the World, Inc. (Save the Michaels) in June 2011.
Michael, a 20-year-old St. Joseph’s student, had been battling the debilitating effects of Crohn’s disease, which was further complicated by his later addiction to opioid medications. Save the Michaels is, at its core, a non-profit organization designed to meet people where they are. “If you need help and need it now, you can call us anytime, anywhere, and we will help you,” says Avi.
“At the individual level, there is never a single cause of suicide. There are always multiple risk factors,” said Christine Moutier, MD, chief medical officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, in a 2019 American Psychological Association article. Avi agrees, saying, “It’s never just suicide. Whether it’s addiction, mental health, or other factors, the darkness and hopelessness people feel is much deeper. We started this to let people know there’s always hope.”
Save the Michaels offers recovery, group, and family support, housing help, and transportation to rehab anywhere in New York state where a bed available. Just this year, the organization has helped 1,810 people, travelling over 130,000 miles to help those fighting addiction. Save the Michaels was also recently awarded a grant through the Community Health Access to Addiction and Mental Healthcare Project (CHAMP) network, an ombudsman program established to educate individuals, families, and providers regarding their legal right to insurance coverage for behavioral health services. As a result, individuals and families have greater access to treatment and services and can investigate and resolve complaints regarding health insurance denials. Save the Michaels helps educate consumers, family groups, advocates, providers, and other stakeholders about the CHAMP program; advises clients about securing payment for mental health and addiction services from a health insurance plan; and provides information about mental health and substance use disorder laws and other regulations that protect consumers’ rights to access health services.
“We recognize the obstacles in the way for people with addiction or mental health issues to get the help they need. At Save the Michaels, there is no judgement, no worries of insurance, no waiting. Our only requirement is to never give up hope,” says Avi.
For more information about Save the Michaels of the World, call 716-984-8375 or visit www.savethemichaels.org, where you can also donate to the mission to save lives this holiday season.