Suicide: Private pain or public health issue?

Cadillac News – by Jeff Broddle


When a loved one commits suicide, there is pain for survivors and, understandably, a need for privacy.

But suicide also is a public health issue. For Americans between the ages of 25 and 34, suicide is the second-leading cause of death. It’s the third-leading cause for those between the ages of 15 and 24, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

From 2004 to 2012, Wexford County recorded 61 suicides. That averages out to 6.7 per year — about one every two months, according to figures supplied by Medical Examiner Fred Wreford. To put that in comparison with another unexpected, yet not uncommon, cause of death, in the same time period there were 65 people killed in vehicle crashes, whether an automobile crash or some other moving vehicle such as a motorcycle or off-road vehicle.

Similar results were found in Missaukee County, where there were 14 deaths suspected to be suicide. In the same time period, there were 12 vehicle-related deaths.

Although not subjected to statistical analysis, differences could be observed in the type of person who is committing suicide.

In Wexford County, the average age of those committing suicide between 2004 and 2012 was 46.

In Missaukee County, however, according to Missaukee County Medical Examiner Gregory Lambourne, the majority of the suicides were by people in their 30s or even their 20s.

“Rarely are they older people facing the end of life,” Lambourne said.

Statistics kept by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveal that for Baby Boomers, the suicide rate has increased almost 30 percent between 2001 and 2010. Boomers are defined as those Americans born between 1946 and 1964.

Traditionally, seniors age 85 and older have been the group most likely to commit suicide. In general, more men than women commit suicide. Use of alcohol and drugs also raise the risk of suicide, and rates also are higher for veterans.

Wexford County recorded nine suicides last year. In comparison, five people were killed in vehicle crashes in the same time frame. Suicide took the lives of six people in the county in 2011, and also the same number lost their lives in crashes. Looking back as far as nine years, the highest number of suicides came in 2004 and 2006, with 11 in each year. In 2007, the fewest were recorded, with two.

Missaukee County, with a population slightly less than half of Wexford County, understandably had fewer numbers of residents taking their own lives. Two suicides were reported last year, half the number seen in 2011. Three were recorded in 2010.

Numbers for Osceola and Lake counties were not immediately available.

But numbers can’t be expected to paint a picture of the whole problem, according to Leilani Kitler, prevention coordinator for Northern Lakes Community Mental Health. Kitler also is coordinator and facilitator for the local Suicide Prevention Coalition.

Kitler said that in some cases, deaths may not be accurately reported as suicide out of respect for the family. In some cases, knowing what happened may not be easy.

Take an example of someone who is age 60 or 70, who is fighting a disease or has a chronic condition. Painkillers may be readily available to them. Should they die of an overdose, it may be difficult to say whether or not the overdose was intentional. In some cases, a health care provider such as a nurse who had frequent contact with the patient may strongly suspect that there was more to the death than a mistake with a prescription.

Also keep in mind, Kitler said, that following a death, whether the cause was suicide or not, the focus is on loved ones and the grieving.

“We often take our cues from the family,” Kitler said. “We want to be supportive in recovery, and not be contradicting their views.”

 McClatchy News Service contributed to this report

Signs of suicide: what to watch for

If you have concerns that a loved one, friend or acquaintance is thinking of suicide, the best way to find out if they are at risk is to ask them, according to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center. All people with suicidal thoughts should be taken seriously.

According to the SPRC, talking about thoughts of suicide with someone will not put the idea in their head, and it doesn’t increase your own risk. Individuals with thoughts about about suicide may be doing so for reasons that can be understandable.

Experts on the topic of suicide say that most people with suicidal thoughts want to live, but also want to be free of pain.

A majority of individuals who die of suicide likely suffered from clinical depression, although it may not be until after someone has died that the survivors are able to connect the dots.

It’s not unusual for families to say they had no idea, according to Leilani Kitler, prevention coordinator for Northern Lakes Community Mental Health.

Telltale signs may include withdrawing from friends and family, changes in sleep patterns and not taking part in activities an individual had previously enjoyed.

There could be other changes in behavior. Someone considering suicide may suddenly begin giving away valuable possessions.

The acronym “ACT” helps provide guidance, especially for teens:

A — Acknowledge: recognize that these are real concerns.

C — Concern: express concern for the person’s situation, show empathy for their problems.

T — Tell: tell a trusted adult.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number is 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Veterans also may call a line dedicated to them at 1-800-273-8255 Press 1.