Experts warn suicides are on the rise

By William F. West
The Daily Advance
Saturday, September 20, 2014

Keith Hamm says while many people believe suicides among North Carolina’s youths and young adults occur in big cities such as Raleigh, they also occur in the Tar Heel State’s rural regions, including the Albemarle.

Hamm was one of those speaking late last week at a suicide prevention symposium hosted by Albemarle Regional Health Services and held at the Museum of the Albemarle. Hamm is a mobile crisis clinician for Integrated Family Services, which is a provider specializing in responding to intensely difficult situations in the region, including those involving people who might try to take their own lives.

Hamm told a gathering of at least 150 people that, when the subject of youths trying to take their own lives comes up, he more than a few times has heard fellow adults say, “Oh, it’s just kids and it’s kid drama” or “They’re just seeking attention.” Not so, Hamm said based on his experiences. Hamm told of one of them involving an 18-year-old young lady phoning mobile crisis and saying she did not want to re-enter her family’s residence.

Recalling his meeting the young woman outside the home, he told of her crying, clasping her hands over her eyes and revealing having suffered abuse and trauma at the hands of family members. He told of never seeing a person in such emotional pain as the young woman.

“I was just beside myself at what this 18-year-old had lived through already in her life,” Hamm said.
So urgent was the young woman’s situation, Hamm said, that he phoned his supervisor and advised, “Left to her own devices, this young woman will not be alive by tonight.”

Hamm, in speaking to the gathering, urged the need to intervene if they suspect a young person is going to commit suicide and also urged them to contact the mobile crisis center if the young person’s parent or guardian cannot immediately be reached.

The symposium, held Friday morning, featured presentations and interaction by state health experts, but first, Camden County Sheriff Tony Perry gave opening remarks. Camden’s top lawman, in addition to suffering the loss of a deputy to suicide, also knows well about instances of self-inflicted deaths by youths in his county. Perry recalled two separate instances of teens dying as a result of hanging themselves. One of the cases was over an ex-girlfriend. The other case involved a young man who had been staying with grandparents and had wanted to leave the grandparents and return to his mother. The mother refused to take him back in.

Perry told the gathering that, “As sheriff, we carry the weight and the burden of the safety and welfare of the citizens.” “We’re looking for answers as to what we can do about it,” he said.

Suicide data outlined
The gathering saw extensive statistics presented by Anna Austin, who said that, today, suicides are the leading cause of injury deaths among North Carolinians. Austin is with the N.C. Division of Public Health, in the injury and violence protection branch. In the past, Austin said, unintentional motor vehicle crashes had been the number one cause of injury deaths, but she said those numbers have been declining in recent years, while deaths due to suicides have generally remained unchanged.

To illustrate the situation among youths and young adults, Austin provided data about those between ages 10 and 24, mainly from 2009 to 2011. Those between 10 and 24 have the lowest rate of suicide deaths of any age group in North Carolina, but they have by far the highest rates of self-inflicted injuries requiring a trip to an emergency room or hospitalization, she said.

More specifically, for every youth or young adult who committed suicide, 24 ended up in an emergency room and 12 were hospitalized, she said. In outlining data about youths and young adults according to gender, Austin said males have a much higher rate of suicides than females. In fact, she said, males are approximately four times more likely to die as a result of suicides compared to females. However, Austin said, females are much more likely to end up in an emergency room or be hospitalized for a self-inflicted injury than males.
In looking further at the data about youths and young adults, the highest rate of suicides are among younger adults, specifically between the ages of 20 and 24, with at least 12 deaths per 100,000 people, she said. The highest rates of self-inflicted injuries resulting in trips to an emergency room are among those between ages 15 and 19, with at least 230 injuries per 100,000.

Austin went on to provide data about suicide methods among youths and young adults from 2009 to 2011.

The most common method among males was the use of a firearm. The rest of the most common methods among males were hanging, strangulation, suffocation or poisoning.

The most common methods among females were hanging, strangulation or suffocation. The most common other methods among females were by the use of firearm or poisoning.

The data also showed that, among both males and females, the circumstances surrounding suicides commonly included a crisis within two weeks before the death. Other circumstances showed that both males and females were likely to be described as having suffered from a depressed mood, but that females were more likely to be described as having suffered from a mental health problem.

Austin said the data shows that, among youths and young adults who committed self-inflicted deaths, approximately a fourth of them had left suicide notes and that slightly more than a fourth of them had disclosed their intent to commit suicide to someone else prior to the event.

Report to be released
Margaret Vaughn also is with the injury and violence prevention branch of the N.C. Division of Public Health. She spoke of efforts to compile an up-to-date statewide plan about suicide prevention, both among youths and adults. She said the plan should be ready by either December or January.

Vaughn said that, last fall, she and fellow public health experts, along with health behavior experts with the University of North Carolina system, started the process of what they wanted the plan to address. She said the effort included an emphasis on creating opportunities for partnerships. “We realized early on that we weren’t just going to be some folks sitting in an office talking about suicide prevention,” Vaughn said. “We really needed stakeholders to get on board.”

Vaughn said efforts were made to reach out to faith-based organizations, to those who represent the military and to colleges and universities. As a result, she said, 183 stakeholders became involved in the process, with the process including a youth advisory counsel of high school students, she said. Also, there were two full-day meetings in Raleigh, one in the spring, the other in the summer, with approximately 70 working group members attending each meeting, she said.

Throughout the process, she said, the goal has been to create an action-specific document.
“We’re really hoping that it’s not just going to be a PDF that sits on a web site. We really want to communicate it in some unique ways and try to actually get it out there and make it usable for folks,” she said.

Samuel Shaw, who is the in-school suspension coordinator at Camden County High School, said Friday’s gathering was quite good and also necessary. Shaw was particularly interested about hearing the data and said the gathering was the first time he had heard of the mobile crisis unit.

“I think it was very informative,” he said. “I think it was very positive. I think it was very helpful for us as a county and people to know what we’re dealing with to try to help.”

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