Sui­cide num­bers scary in Ge­or­gia

Robin Wil­liams’ death raises aware­ness of pub­lic health is­sue

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - ROB DEWIG rdewig@cov­

When a plane crashes, it’s na­tional news. When some­one kills them­selves, it’s re­ally not news at all. Un­less it’s Robin Wil­liams, whose death pushed sui­cide to the pub­lic’s at­ten­tion. While Wil­liams’ death is shock­ing, the num­bers are more so.

Jennifer Wilds, the as­sis­tant co­or­di­na­tor of View­point Health and chair of the New­ton/Rock­dale Sui­cide Pre­ven­tion Coali­tion, said 39,000 peo­ple died by sui­cide in the U.S. in 2011, the most re­cent year such num­bers are avail­able. The num­ber in Ge­or­gia was 1,100.

It gets worse. In 2011, sui­cide was the 10th lead­ing cause of deaths na­tion­wide. In Ge­or­gia, it’s the sec­ond lead­ing cause of deaths in adults ages 25-34, the third in the 15-24 age group (Wilds calls that “su­per-fright­en­ing”), and the fourth in age groups 10-14, 35-44 and 45-54.

It gets worse still. “For Ge­or­gia stu­dents in the sixth through 12th grades, in 2013, 672 youths stated that they had at­tempted sui­cide in the past year. And 1,107 said they had se­ri­ously con­sid­ered sui­cide in the past year.”

In the six eastern and metro coun­ties (in­clud­ing New­ton and Rock­dale) that make up the De­part­ment of Be­hav­ioral Help and De­vel­op­men­tal Dis­abil­i­ties’ re­gion 3, sui­cide pre­ven­tion spe­cial­ists fielded 500 calls for help in July alone.

“I think we need to make sure we are get­ting peo­ple the sup­port they need, whether health sup­port, med­i­ca­tion or just be­com­ing in­volved in com­mu­nity life and de­creas­ing their sense of iso­la­tion,” she said Satur­day.

The num­ber of deaths in New­ton County, on the sur­face at least, “is not hugely over­whelm­ing, but the num­ber of peo­ple who are se­ri­ously con­sid­er­ing it is very high.”

Why? Peo­ple don’t know who to call for help. And there’s a stigma at­tached to ask­ing for help.

A man Wilds spoke with re­cently said he didn’t want to take “cuckoo pills,” but “he ended up in the emer­gency room be­cause he didn’t take those ‘cuckoo pills.’”

It’s im­por­tant, she said, to get the right ser­vices and sup­port at the right time.

If some­one (or yes, your­self) is ac­tively sui­ci­dal, call 911.

“If it’s kind of be­fore that level and they’re hav­ing these thoughts and talk­ing about it, we have a Ge­or­gia cri­sis line, 24/7, 365 days a year,” she said. “They are trained pro­fes­sion­als and can help with prob­lems over the phone and they have mo­bile cri­sis teams who can go to homes … to schools, wher­ever peo­ple need them to come, to do an as­sess­ment.”

Those teams, if needed, can take peo­ple to hos­pi­tals or help them make ap­point­ments for med­i­cal or emo­tional care.

What to look for

So how does a fam­ily mem­ber know help is needed right now? There are things to look for, Wilds said.

“Ob­vi­ously threats (of sui­cide), but some peo­ple start giv­ing away pos­ses­sions or act­ing re­ally reck­less or en­gag­ing in re­ally risky be­hav­iors they might not have done in the past,” she said. Other things to note in­clude “not see­ing a fu­ture in them­selves, hope­less­ness, anger, with­draw­ing from fam­ily and friends, not be­ing in­ter­ested in the things they were once in­ter­ested in, prob­lems sleep­ing or sleep­ing more than nor­mal … no hope for the fu­ture, in­creas­ing al­co­hol or drug use, mood swings, and ob­vi­ous threats (like) ‘I don’t want to be alive any­more.’”

The New­ton/Rock­dale coali­tion’s plan is called QPR – ques­tion, per­suade, re­fer.

“We can come out to church groups, law en­force­ment groups, school groups, and we can teach you what to do in those cases. … It’s re­ally ques­tion­ing some­body when they make a state­ment like that, per­suad­ing them to get help and tak­ing the next step to get that help.”

The coali­tion has 25 trained spe­cial­ists in New­ton and Rock­dale coun­ties. All ser­vices are free.

“We re­ally want to get out to some of these groups - vet­er­ans, the elderly, young peo­ple,” she said. “A lot of times a young person is go­ing to tell it to a young person friend; they’re not go­ing to go to a coun­selor or a par­ent.”

To­day, “mid­dle-aged men are the high­est pop­u­la­tion right now of peo­ple tak­ing their own lives.”

She had two cousins in 40s kill them­selves in last 15 months.

“It’s per­sonal for a lot of peo­ple. To me, those two lives were well worth sav­ing. This is some­thing that could be hap­pen­ing to your brother, your sis­ter. It’s fright­en­ing.”

And the na­tional me­dia isn’t help- ing. Re­mem­ber that “Aladdin” pic­ture re­leased by Dis­ney say­ing Wil­liams was now at peace? Ugh.

“There have been a lot of things com­ing out in the me­dia idol­iz­ing it,” Wilds said. “Like that Aladdin piece, ‘now you’re at peace.’ Does that give them the wrong mes­sage? Now they might do it them­selves.”

For­tu­nately, the news since Wil­liams’ death is not all bad. In the last sev­eral days, calls to the na­tional sui­cide pre­ven­tion hot­line have in­creased about four times.

“If you need some­body, if you have any thoughts that maybe they’re contemplating it, see if you can get them to some sup­port,” she said. “It’s a pub­lic health prob­lem that ef­fects peo­ple, af­fects com­mu­ni­ties, af­fects ev­ery­body.”

Ac­cord­ing to the fed­eral govern­ment, each sui­cide ef­fects on av­er­age six peo­ple. Wilds thinks that’s low.

“Another thing, think about the num­ber of peo­ple who die in plane crashes. We have 100 peo­ple killed, ob­vi­ously that’s tragic, that’s a lot of peo­ple, but we have 39,000 die in the coun­try each year by sui­cide.

“If 39,000 peo­ple were gone to­mor­row, don’t you think we’d have some leg­is­la­tion, some ac­tion? But sui­cide kind of gets swept un­der the rug some­times.”

The New­ton/Rock­dale coali­tion is over­seen by the state De­part­ment of Be­hav­ioral Help and De­vel­op­men­tal Dis­abil­i­ties, which of­fers sup­port, lead­er­ship, and some money.

Septem­ber is sui­cide pre­ven­tion aware­ness month.

AP file photo

Robin Wil­liams suf­fered from de­pres­sion, ac­cord­ing to his wife.

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