Suicide rates have increased by more than 25 percent since the turn of the century, according to the country’s Centers for Disease Control, with half of the states reflecting an increase of more than 30 percent from 2014-2016.
Following the recent deaths of fashion designer Kate Spade and celebrity food aficionado Anthony Bourdain earlier in June, the CDC released its most recent statistics reflecting the increase.
According to the CDC.gov website, “In 2016, nearly 45,000 Americans age 10 or older died by suicide. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death and is one of just three leading causes that are on the rise.”
North Carolina reflected a 6- to 18-percent increase, with 12 states showing the highest increase from 38 to 58 percent.
Most of the increase is focused through the Plains region from Utah and Idaho, through the Dakotas and Oklahoma, to Minnesota. Regionally, South Carolina fits the highest surge category, with Tennessee following at 19 to 30 percent escalation and Virginia maintaining the same increase as North Carolina.
Although suicide affects all races, genders and ages, there seems to have been a local pattern, according to the CDC Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) Fatal Injury Mapping.
This system contains information gathered from 2008 to 2014 and suggests that, of Surry, Wilkes and Yadkin counties, Surry has had the highest number of suicides.
According to this system, the suicides involved in these three counties during this period involved only white males, with the majority of those in Surry County being between the ages of 25 and 49. The system acknowledges unknown factors and is dependent upon coroner’s and police reports.
The significantly-impacted group in Surry County may reflect a unique group of concern.
Many veterans are challenged as they return to civilian life leading to thoughts and even actions of self-harm.
“One reason why veterans commit suicide that is different than civilians is because of survivor’s guilt,” said U.S. Army Retired Brigadier Gen. James R. Gorham.
Gorham, director of special projects for the N.C. Department of Public Safety, worked with the N.C. Center for Safer Schools on projects including suicide prevention. He is also an ordained minister with the St. Peter’s Church & World Outreach Center in Winston-Salem.
“Veterans that survive horrific events where other members of their team or squad are killed have a hard time dealing with the fact that they lived and was able to come home to their friends and loved ones. Most civilians do not have to deal with issue,” said Gorham.
However, “suicide is rarely caused by a single factor,” according to the CDC. “Relationship problems or loss, substance misuse; physical health problems; and job, money, legal or housing stress often contributed to risk for suicide.”
Often whatever the catalyst, the ultimate cause is a desire to end pain.
Elkin High School student Missy Fuentes-Delgado, representative for the Yadkin Valley Rotary Club in the District 7690 Four Way Test high school speech, revealed her observations during her presentation.
“No one would think that a girl who carried herself with confidence and courage would have [suicidal thoughts],” read Fuentes-Delgado’s speech. “Everyone knew she was intelligent, beautiful and resilient. But no one knew she was abused, abandoned and hopeless.”
Fuentes-Delgado chose to write her speech on suicide after discovering its impact at Catalyst Conference at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. She learned that suicidal thoughts not only hide in unexpected places, but affect even young people.
“She was the embodiment of the pain so many people feel, and it was very inspiring to hear her story,” said Fuentes-Delgado, describing the seemingly well-adjusted teenager who attempted to take her own life.
“I personally had a sense that suicide was an issue, but until Catalyst at UNC, I hadn’t realized just how serious it really is because I haven’t experienced this myself or been close to someone who did.”
This is why Fuentes-Delgado has pledged to change her behavior.
“In the speech, I mentioned the story of a fond friend of mine,” said Fuentes-Delgado, referring to a moment when a common inquiry made a difference.
The speech relates, “a moment most people deem irrelevant had changed her life. She was planning on ending her life when she got home … but [the teacher’s] simple question showed the fragile girl that there were people in the world who cared about her.
“Her story was nice because she changed the entire life of one student with a few simple words,” said Fuentes-Delgado.
“Because of this story I have aspired to ask those around me how they have been, reached out to talk to some peers who I might have not talked to in a while, and remind my friends they can talk to me about any issues they are dealing with,” said Fuentes-Delgado.
Reaching out and being kind are just two ways to help others. There are classes which also can help people relate to their loved ones in crisis.
“There is a course called QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) that is taught by many in the mental health community that can help family and loved ones recognize the signs of potential suicide victims,” said Gorham.
Encouraging consistent care through counselors, classes and even medication are also key, however the stigma attached to such activities often leads to lack of regular treatment.
The attitudes of others towards those with mental health issues have become so significant that the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) launched a new campaign in May to help reduce the stigma associated with those who attempt to get aid for their mental health concerns.
“Stigma is a sign or sense of disgrace that sets someone apart from others,” defines nami.org. “Stigma causes people to feel ashamed for something that is out of their control. Worst of all, stigma prevents people from seeking the help they need.”
This may be why the CDC reported that more than half of those who committed suicide were unknown to have a psychological disorder.
NAMI encourages open honest communication as a way to both help eliminate stigma as well as reach a more balanced state of personal mental health, including awareness of language used.
“The simple efforts we can make to ensure that people will live to see the beautiful horizon of tomorrow is worth more than anyone can imagine,” said Fuentes-Delgado.
For resources on suicide prevention, go to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center at www.sprc.org.
Beanie Taylor can be reached at 336-258-4058 or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/TBeanieTaylor.