Recession, tough times linked to national rise in suicides

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Post-deployment military suicides are an increasing concern with 349 such deaths occurring in 2012. Photo by Mickey Alvarado.

Anyone with access to an emergency scanner can attest to the fact that police and rescue personnel periodically respond to attempted suicide calls, though listeners rarely learn whether the attempts result in death. Statistics, mostly kept by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), show that suicide rates do go up during times of recession, with the largest numbers recorded during the Great Depression. A recent study showed that the rate of suicide increased four times faster between 2008 and 2010 than in the eight years before the current recession.

The recent suicide of country singer Mindy McCready finds media attention not only on the entertainer but on the signs and tendencies that can lead up to the taking of one’s own life. McCready had attempted suicide before. Statistics show eight to 25 attempts for every suicide completed.

Tecumseh Police Chief Troy Stern said officers from his department have responded to five calls involving attempted suicide so far this year, similar to last year’s six responses during the same period.

“I don’t know if we have any more than what we’ve generally had, to be honest,” he said. Stern added that calls in this area seem to come more frequently during the holiday season from the first of November to the end of January.

“We do tend to see a spike in such calls then when people are separated from their families or aren’t getting along with them,” Stern said.

The officers typically do not receive any specific training to help in response to such calls, but rely on training for any emergency, Stern said. Dispatchers respond similarly to all calls, by eliciting as much information from callers as possible to relay to responders.

“Anytime there’s a threat, we will do everything in our power to place a family member with that individual,” he said. If officers can’t place the person with an individual who can monitor their emotional state, they will transport them to Herrick Medical Center and request an evaluation.

Craig Miller, MSW, ACSW, administrative director and therapist at Masterpeace Center for Counseling and Development in Tecumseh, said suicide doesn’t generally “come on for no reason,” but is typically a long-term response to a series of factors.

“Usually an attempt at suicide comes out of a person’s helplessness to do something about their life. They can become so desperate over something such as a loss or series of losses, that they see taking their own life as the only solution,” Miller said.

He added that there can be telltale signs that someone is depressed or beginning to withdraw.

“They might lose interest in things they cared about or about life in general, or others will see a change in lifestyle,” he said. “They might have a gloomy look, lose interest in activities they used to enjoy, or isolate themselves more. This can turn to despair when a person suffers the loss of another person or doesn’t get something that they wanted, or face financial setbacks, and they will become increasingly desperate.”

While not everyone who is depressed will attempt suicide, and statistics show that 80 percent of those who seek treatment for depression can be helped, others can help someone they believe may be exhibiting some of the above-mentioned symptoms, according to Miller.

“Typically a depressed person won’t want to talk,” he said. “You have to be more assertive, to say, ‘I really care about you and I’ve seen some changes in you. Tell me what’s going on.’ We already have to do that a lot with teenagers.” He said it’s also important to take seriously any threat a person might make to harm themselves.

“Take them to the hospital or the local ER,” Miller said. “And if you’re on the phone with someone and they say they have a gun or say they want to kill themselves and nobody is there, call 911. Oftentimes, suicide is the end result because people see it as a last resort — they have a sense of hopelessness and think they can’t do anything else.”

Education is another way to reach individuals who might be considering suicide. Last year, Tecumseh High School held a special assembly to remind teens that there are people who care about them, even if they think no one does, especially for those who have been bullied or feeling socially out of touch. CDC data notes that one in five teenagers in the U.S. seriously consider suicide annually.

While women often attempt suicide three times more than men, men complete the act three times more often. Sixty-percent of suicides involve a firearm, while hanging, gas, and ingesting poison or pills are typically the other most common means.

One area of increasing concern is the rising rate of suicide among returning servicemen and women. According to Department of Defense statistics, there were 349 suicides in 2012, with 182 in the Army, 60 from the Navy, 59 in the Air Force, and 48 Marines.

“That’s a whole different ballgame,” said Miller. “The service members come home and they have so much emotion and rage and feelings going on that they feel others can’t understand — and really, we can’t, unless we’ve experienced what they have.” He said the military members have difficulty handling injustice and mixed emotions about what they have seen and done. “The best thing to do for a service member who is struggling is to get them to a VA hospital where they can get connected with the best counselors for what they are experiencing,” Miller said. A hotline for those making adjustments is 1.800.273.8255.

Some people don’t realize that a tendency toward suicide has also been linked to brain chemistry, with researchers studying decreased seratonin. A study at Michigan State University recently found a link to higher levels of an amino acid called glutamate, which they suspect might be a cause of depression. The researchers said with further study, medication might be developed to counter the effect the glutamate has on the brain.

Miller said that those who survive are often devastated following the suicide of a loved one. “They ask why and are left with questions that can’t be answered. It’s a very guilt ridden time, and they think they should have been able to do something,” he said. “The best survival rate for someone contemplating suicide is when they can actually can talk about what’s bothering them.”

For more information, visit www.afsp.org for the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention. Suicide hotlines accessible from this area include: 1.800.273.TALK (8255), the National Suicide Hotline, and 1.800.SUICIDE (784.2433), or simply dial 911.




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