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Suicide rates increase in Indiana, nationwide

The Evening News and The Tribune - 6/15/2018

June 15--JEFFERSONVILLE -- A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report published last Thursday revealed that suicide rates have risen in almost every state from 1999 to 2016. Indiana experienced a rise of 31.9 percent. Half of the states have seen an increase of more than 30 percent.

In the same week, deaths by suicide of fashion designer Kate Spade and television host Anthony Bourdain also brought attention to the issue.

According to the CDC report, 54 percent of the people who died by suicide did not have a known mental health condition. Many factors contributed to these deaths, including relationship problems, substance use, recent crises, physical health issues and job and or financial problems.

Dr. Michael Day, a clinical psychologist and the director of the Indiana University Southeast counseling center, said he was not surprised to see the high numbers from the CDC.

"It's not new information to me, but I'm very glad that the public is paying attention because it is a topic that, because of the stigma, has been hidden for a very long time," he said.

Suicide is the 10th most common cause of death in the United States. About 45,000 people died by suicide in 2016, according to the CDC report.

One of the reasons for the larger numbers could be more accurate reporting of suicide, according to Day. People are more willing to address the issue and name suicide as a cause of death than they were 10 to 15 years ago, he said, but the data likely remains incomplete.

For example, coroners, medical examiners and first responders might count a death as an accident if it cannot clearly be determined as a suicide, he said.

While more accurate reports might be a reason why numbers are increasing, there are many other factors that could be contributing to the rise in suicide rates. Day identified other possible factors, including a lack of accessible mental health care, a divisive culture and isolation. Recent conflicts mean that more veterans and members of the military are at high risk.

Life also seems more stressful, he said, as people check their phones constantly and become overwhelmed with the news cycles.

The suicides of famous figures like Spade and Bourdain can present a challenge to people's ideas about mental illness and suicide. It is important for people to understand that these issues are more prevalent than they might have previously thought, Day said.

"It happens to Robin Williams, it happens to other people, it can happen to anyone, regardless of what they look like on the outside," Day said. "We cannot know what's going on inside unless we ask them."


On Thursday, LifeSpring Health Systems clinical trainer Ellen Kelley taught a class in Jeffersonville about a suicide prevention method called QPR.

The purpose of the training was to teach community members how to identify warning signs of suicide, intervene and connect at-risk people with resources.

Like CPR, QPR is a way for someone to potentially save a life in an urgent situation.

"This is what friends, neighbors and community members can do to help someone through a crisis and get them to professional help," Kelley said.

The first step of QPR is "question." Many people are afraid to ask others if they are considering suicide because they are worried the question will put the idea into their heads, Kelley said, but that idea is false.

There is no harm in asking the question, she said, and if the answer is yes, having that conversation could be life-saving.

When asking if someone is considering suicide, it is important to ask directly with compassion and concern, Day said.

"It's hard to ask that question," Day said. "Most people will ask, 'You're not thinking of doing something stupid, are you?' It is normal, because of our own anxiety about it, but it shuts down the conversation."

The next step in the QPR process is "persuade," which involves encouraging people to get help and talking about healthy alternatives.

When persuading a suicidal person to seek help, one of the most important things is to listen, Day said.

"Listen to the pain that's going on," he said. "Let them share with you that energy and that pain, because that will decrease their anxiety. Try to understand and not rush to judgment, and then persuade them to get help."

The final step in the QPR process is "refer," which involves connecting the suicidal person with a mental health professional.

The CDC report showed that firearms were the most common method for suicide, but men are more likely to use guns than women. Kelley said it is important for people to make sure someone who is feeling suicidal does not have access to guns, which might involve a friend or family member storing the weapons during crises.

There are many stigmas attached to mental illness, Day said, which can make it difficult for people to get help or for people to effectively address the issue. For example, people often don't view mental illness in the same way they view physical illness.

"Mental illness is illness, just like physical illness," he said. "It is not categorically different, but our society thinks about it as categorically different. We think about it as a weakness, we think about it as maybe sinful."

Everyone will deal with some sort of mental health issue at some point in their lives, Day said, even if it is not a diagnosed mental illness. It's just part of being human.

A common myth is that there is nothing to be done if someone is having suicidal thoughts. However, most people who receive an intervention do not go on to take their lives, Day said. For most people, it is a time-limited experience, so it is preventable if they get help during that time.

"Most people who are suicidal don't want to die," Day said. "They really don't. They want to get away. They want to get away from some situation."

LifeSpring's programs for suicide prevention have grown significantly over the past seven or so years, Kelley said. She said she has seen more and more people from the community become involved in programs like its QPR training and Mental Health First Aid classes.

"Suicide is the most preventable cause of death that we have, so that makes people feel empowered," she said. "If it's preventable, then by god, let's all work together to prevent it."


(c)2018 The Evening News and The Tribune (Jeffersonville, Ind.)

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