Suicide rate in county has almost doubled so far this year compared to 2019

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, September 30, 2020

The number of suicide deaths in Pearl River County almost doubled from 2019 to 2020. Resources for those experiencing suicidal thoughts are available locally.

In 2019, six deaths in this county were attributed to suicide, according to Coroner Derek Turnage. Since January of 2020, 11 deaths in this county were classified as being due to suicide.

“Eleven is eleven too many in our small county,” said Turnage.

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There are suicide prevention programs available in the county through the Pine Grove Outreach Center and the local hospital. People who need help can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

The high number of job losses and the financial strain many are experiencing have made 2020 a tough year for many people, he said.

“There are avenues for people to get help. It’s not the end in a lot of circumstances if people just know to call,” said Turnage.

Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner Pat Calabrese works for Pine Grove Behavioral Health and Addiction Services and has been doing advance practice in psychiatry for over 35 years.

“Hurricanes come and they just come and they hit, and then we get these hopeful moments, everybody’s cleaning up. This pandemic is just not like that. It keeps going on and on. It is really hard for people who are depressed to get hopeful. I find even with my patients, I have to be really creative to come up with fun, happy things to do while still staying safe from the virus,” said Calabrese.

Social support is important for people experiencing depression, which makes the social isolation many are or have experienced due to the pandemic a challenge.

“Mississippi has a lot of pros and cons. The pros are a lot of people live around their families, so the support is there. The con is the job availability is not huge, so if you do lose your job the ability to get another is not great.”

The risk factors for suicide and the warning signs vary depending on age.

For adults, the biggest risk factor is a previous suicide attempt. While women attempt suicide at higher rates, adults who complete a suicide attempt tend to be men. Losing a job, the death of a loved one or the abuse of intoxicating substances are all risk factors for adults. Adults who are depressed may socially isolate themselves. Depression symptoms include irritability, changes in sleep or appetite, loss of interest and feelings of hopelessness.

“Psychiatric issues escalate over time,” said Calabrese. “Rarely have I ever heard a story where ‘he just woke up and he was different.’ It’s, ‘I started to notice he was drinking more’ and ‘I started to notice he didn’t want to go to church with us,’ and ‘I started to notice he started taking the car to drive alone at night.’”

Teenagers may exhibit warning signs like depression, obtaining a gun, stockpiling medication or giving away personal possessions, according to Pine Grove’s “Suicide and Teens” guide. The most common type of suicide attempt with teenagers occur during instances of interpersonal distress—situations such as the loss of a boyfriend or girlfriend or a teen girl who is being shamed by other girls, said Calabrese.

“Teenagers usually make a suicide attempt in the distress of something relational and it is so, so often a breakup with a boyfriend or girlfriend… Shame is a big thing. You see suicidal attempts oftentimes when teenagers are first coming out as gay or lesbian and the shame that comes out at the school or any family shame from that area is not uncommon.”

Suicide attempts in children younger than 13 are rare, she said, but suicide can still be an issue. Middle school children or younger children who are depressed may not seem depressed like adults or teens. Instead, they may become very irritable or hyperactive. Hyperactivity can be a sign of anxiety in younger children, said Calabrese.

Over the course of her professional career, Calabrese has seen an increase in depression and suicidal thoughts at younger ages, and multiple studies have connected low self worth at younger ages, closer to 10 or 11 instead of around age 16, to social media use, she said.

If someone is in distress or immediate danger, going to the closest emergency department is the best option.

There is a Pine Grove Outreach Center in Picayune and a Carriere office open during weekdays. The main Hattiesburg campus is always open.
Individuals in need of help or their loved ones can contact Pine Grove Behavioral Health and Addiction Services at 601-288-2273. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255 and the Mississippi Department of Mental Health helpline is 1-877-210-8513.