Kentucky’s suicide rate is above the national average

Education, open dialogue are keys to prevention

By Kentucky Health News

LEXINGTON, Ky. (April 20, 2015) — Kentucky’s suicide rate is higher than the national average, and an expert says we must create an open dialogue about it and provide more education if we want this rate to decrease, Kat Russell reports for The Paducah Sun.

“People commit suicide when they see no way out from whatever the situation is,” Dr. Laurie Ballew, medical director at Paducah’s Lourdes Behavioral Health Institute, told Russell. “Usually people feel hopeless, they see no light at the end of the tunnel, and that hopelessness is a key factor in someone following through with the act of killing themselves.”

Russell did an in-depth look at suicide in McCracken County, where the newspaper and its owner, Paxton Media Group, are based. “McCracken County is ranked 13th in the state as far as suicide, so if you take into consideration all of the (120) counties in Kentucky, we’re pretty high,” Ballew said. Click here to find out where your county ranks.

Kentucky has 15.5 suicides per 100,000 people, compared to 12.5 nationwide. It is the 10th leading cause of death in Kentucky and the second leading cause of death in people 15 to 34, according to the according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Russell reports.

McCracken County Sheriff Jon Hayden told Russell that his department investigated 31 suicides in each of the last two years and five so far this year. The Paducah Police Department reported 31 suicides in 2013 and 35 in 2014, and six suicides this year. The local 911 dispatch center told Russell that it had fielded more than 540 calls threatening suicide and more than 130 attempted suicides since Jan. 1, 2013.

“We get calls multiple times per week, threatening suicide either with medication or a weapon of some sort,” Hayden said, noting that most of the calls do not result in suicide and the individual usually gets the help they need.

WebMD lists these warning signs of suicide, which are especially concerning if a person has attempted suicide in the past:

  • Always talking or thinking about death
  • Clinical depression that gets worse
  • Having a “death wish,” tempting fate by taking risks that could lead to death.
  • Losing interest in things one used to care about
  • Making comments about being hopeless, helpless, or worthless
  • Putting affairs in order, tying up loose ends, changing a will
  • Saying things like “it would be better if I wasn’t here” or “I want out”
  • Sudden, unexpected switch from being very sad to being very calm or appearing to be happy
  • Talking about suicide or killing one’s self
  • Visiting or calling people to say goodbye

Drug and alcohol abuse also can be factors, Ballew told Russell. “What do those things do? They decrease our inhibition, they decrease our filter that tells us ‘Oh no, you don’t want to do that.’

Ballew told Russell if a person’s behavior changes are milder, “sometimes showing that person support and compassion can alleviate some of his or her suffering and encourage them to get help,” but it is important to seek medical attention for “severe cases.

“If you have an individual who just gets more and more depressed, who won’t get out of bed or gets to the point where they can’t get out of bed, then you (should) call an ambulance or get them to a hospital and have them admitted,” Ballew said, stressing the importance of education and open discussion.

“Emotional illness can hit anybody,” she told Russell. “We’re all humans. … Anybody can feel hopeless or helpless at any time. If we could reduce the stigma that is attached to depression and mental illness and suicide, then I think people who are suffering might see that maybe there is some hope. But the only way to prevent something is to be educated about it.”

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