Distressing numbers

Published 11:11 am Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The report that the number of suicides in Jackson County soared since Hurricane Katrina is distressing, but there are measures that can be taken to reduce the incidence.

The extent of the problem is likely to be surprising to many. Suicide is often stigmatized and kept as a family secret. The problem with that secrecy is it can prevent people from obtaining help.

Jackson County Coroner Vicki Broadus recently reported the number of suicides in the past six months is greater than occurred all of last year. The coroner said most suicide victims have been teenagers, and alcohol and drugs are a factor.

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Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath is suspected as playing a role in the increased number of suicides. The months since Katrina have played havoc with lives here. The stress level along the hurricane-damaged Gulf Coast is certainly elevated. For some families, it has meant living in a travel trailer and wrestling with financial uncertainty. Youths do not escape that stress and can turn to alcohol and drugs to escape depression.

The Mississippi Department of Mental Health began Project Recovery with more than 370 crisis counselors providing face-to-face as well as phone counseling. But counseling can begin with a family member or friend listening closely. And, help is as close as a pastor or the family doctor.

What’s important is people, young and old, who are suffering from depression, seek help.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 39,622 people lost their lives to suicide in 2001. There were 132,353 individuals in 2002 who were hospitalized following suicide attempts and 116,639 were treated and released from emergency departments.

The depth of the problem is revealed in another number from the CDC, which states that suicide is the eighth leading cause of death among U.S. men. While males are four times more likely to die from suicide than females, women report attempting suicide during the lifetime about three times as often as men. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people ages 15 to 24, according to the CDC.

The CDC lists the following as suicide risk factors:

Previous suicide attempts;

History of mental disorders, particularly depression;

History of alcohol and substance abuse;

Family history of suicide;

Family history of child maltreatment;

Feelings of hopelessness;

Impulsive or aggressive tendencies;

Barriers to accessing mental health treatment;

Loss (relational, social, work, or financial);

Physical illness;

Easy access to lethal methods;

Unwillingness to seek help because of the stigma attached to mental health and substance abuse disorders or suicidal thoughts;

Cultural and religious beliefs — for instance, the belief that suicide is a noble resolution of a personal dilemma;

Local epidemics of suicide and

Isolation, a feeling of being cut off from other people.

Preventative measures against suicide, according to the CDC, includes clinical care for mental, physical and substance abuse disorders.

The CDC also cites family and community support along with cultural and religious beliefs that discourage suicide.

The increase in the suicide rate here is alarming. There is a need to recognize the problem and address it individually as well as by the community.