Suicide Prevention Awareness Month has shone a spotlight on the crisis in the local four-county area. But understanding the causes and realizing there are alternatives can stem the number of victims, said Tonie Long.
That’s the message Long, the coordinator of Local Outreach to Survivors of Suicide (LOSS), is trying to convey. The monthly support group for survivors of suicide meets every first Thursday from 7-8:30 p.m. at the local ADAMhs board – 7-8:30 p.m., at T-761 State Route 66 in Archbold.
“In this country, we lose more people to suicide than to homicide and war combined,” Long said. “The world is moving really fast, and people are experiencing a sense of instability about that.”
In 2017, there were 26 deaths by suicide across Fulton, Henry, Defiance, and Williams counties. Through July of 2018, there were another 14 suicides. Typically, one suicide each year locally is someone under the age of 18.
For every successful suicide, there are an estimated 25 attempts.
Statistically, 93 percent of local suicide deaths are completed by males, with 65 percent of those deaths completed by white, middle-aged men in the 35 to 64 age range. Fifty-three percent of suicides overall are completed with a firearm.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 90 percent of those who die by suicide suffered from some type of mental illness that, in many cases, was not being treated.
And suicides are increasing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that since 1999 the State of Ohio has witnessed a 36 percent increase in deaths by suicide, 2 1/2 times higher than the state’s homicide rate. The numbers mirror national statistics, which record a 30 percent increase in the same time span.
Long said within the middle-aged white male category, the main reason for suicide is usually a mental health disorder they don’t know how to express.
“For whatever reason, it could be the culture of what it means to be male in our society. They can’t get past the stigma of needing help,” she said.
Other groups vulnerable to suicide include veterans, the elderly, and teenagers. Long said while teen suicide rates locally are low, “any time we have a youth that takes a life, that’s a problem. Any time a youth dies it’s tragic, and I really think it touches people’s lives.”
She said the main reason someone will complete suicide is depression, with reasons varying from loss of a job, a bad medical diagnosis or the disruption of an intimate relationship, among others. If a person suffers from alcohol or drug abuse the impulse to kill themselves can be stronger.
In fact, bipolar depression is the number one mental illness associated with suicide, at a rate 15 times higher than suicide among the general population, said Karen VonDeylen, prevention supervisor at Maumee Valley Guidance Center, based in Defiance. According to the National Council for Behavioral Health, an estimated 25 percent of all completed suicides are by people suffering from bipolar disorder.
But Long speculates that the onslaught of technology could also be a factor in completed suicides. With people glued to their cell phones, laptops, iPods, and video games, human interaction has suffered, she said. Studies have indicated that college-aged individuals are reporting a sense of loneliness in higher numbers.
“We’re living in a pretty high-tech, fast-paced environment…But at the same time we have a crisis of loneliness,” she said. “There is no substitute for family and friends you can have direct contact with in deep and meaningful relationships.”
LOSS is taking action to counteract the suicide crisis, Long said. In addition to a vigorous ad campaign, which includes radio spots and messages on local movie screens, they’re encouraging primary care physicians to screen their patients for depression during office visits.
The LOSS group sessions can be very therapeutic for those who have lost a loved one to suicide, she said. Those whose family members commit suicide are nine times more likely to kill themselves.
“What was inconceivable before has suddenly become an option,” Long said.
People can be reluctant to talk about the suicide of a family member or friend, she said, adding, “There’s something about losing someone to suicide that can be very isolating.”
The local ADAMhs board is working to dispel the stigma attached to losing a loved one to suicide, Long said.
VonDeylen said signs of possible suicide can include an outright threat by someone to hurt or kill themselves. “A lot of people threaten over and over again, and people don’t take them seriously,” she said.
Other signs include providing a means to complete suicide; discussing death and dying on social media; reckless or risky behaviors; an increase in drug or alcohol use; withdrawing from people; a dramatic change in mood; and giving away possessions.
The four-county area has a plethora of organizations that can help suicidal individuals or those with family members considering suicide. They include the Maumee Valley Guidance Center, A Renewed Mind based in Napoleon, and Recovery Services of Northwest Ohio in Defiance.
Ask a person outright if they plan suicide, if that’s what is suspected, VonDeylen said. “It’s a difficult question to ask, it’s uncomfortable, but it’s important. If we don’t ask it someone could feel suicidal and not reach out for help,” she said.
She said community resources are available as well for people with a family member contemplating suicide.
“It teaches them how to ask the question, recognize warning signs, how to listen, and how to have the uncomfortable conversation,” she said. “The biggest thing is, listen non-judgmentally. Be patient. And know the resources available. We’re trying to get the word out there, and hopefully save someone’s life.”
Long said people contemplating suicide must understand it’s not necessary in order to escape their despair.
“They’re not realizing that there are alternatives to their pain. Treatment for depression is very effective. They don’t have to be in pain,” Long said.
The local suicide hotline is 1-800 468-4357. The national hotline is 1-800-273-8255.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.