September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month in Tennessee. An estimated 900 men, women and children commit suicide each year in our state — more people than are lost to homicide, AIDS or drunken driving.
DeKalb County had five suicides in 2011 for a rate of 26.5 per 100,000 population. That is the most recent statistic available for the county.
In the five years prior to 2011, the suicide rates in DeKalb County were as follows:
Year 2010: seven suicides at a rate of 37.4 per 100,000 population
Year 2009: five suicides at 26.5 per 100,000
Year 2008: nine suicides at 48.1 per 100,000
Year 2007: three suicides at 16.2 per 100,000
Year 2006: three suicides at 16.2 per 100,000
Suicide is the third-leading cause of death among youths and young adults ages 15-24 in Tennessee. According to the Tennessee Department of Health, there were 4,607 recorded suicide deaths in our state in the past five years.
According to the Tennessee Youth Risk Behavior Survey published in 2011 by the Tennessee Department of Education, 25.9 percent of high school students — approximately 1 in 4 — surveyed reported experiencing a period of sadness or hopelessness for two weeks or more that was severe enough to pull them away from their usual activities during a 12-month period. One in 7, or 14.7 percent, actually considered suicide during that period. One in 9 (11.1 percent of survey respondents) planned out how they would do it. One in 16 (6.2 percent) actually tried to take their own lives. Of those who attempted suicide, approximately 35 percent required medical attention for injuries related to their attempt.
But while youth suicide gets the most attention from mental health agencies, our state also is dealing with increasing rates of suicide among middle-aged adults hard hit by the recent recession and slow recovery. Also, the ebb of the Middle East conflicts means more soldiers will be trying to reconcile their wartime experiences with civilian life. Many of the soldiers coming back from combat deployments suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.
The Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network also is concerned about the issue of gun safety as it relates to suicide. Firearms are involved in roughly 600 suicide deaths in Tennessee each year — two-thirds of all suicide deaths reported in our state. Additionally, there are about 25 accidental firearm deaths in Tennessee each year, along with about 1,700 accidental shootings requiring emergency medical attention. As an alternative to potentially onerous gun-control legislation, our agency believes that safe storage of firearms is the answer, and we are currently reaching out to gun shops and firing ranges across the state to promote that ideal.
Our goal is not merely fewer suicides; it is zero suicides. Suicide remains a major and tragic threat to middle-aged adults in our state. When the people of Tennessee need us, we will be there to teach, explain, console and encourage. TSPN is staging several events across the state during September to promote the cause of suicide prevention. For information, visit our website, www.tspn.org. We hope you can attend at least one of these events and join us in the ongoing effort to make zero suicides not just an objective, but a reality for our state.
In the meantime, you can get help for someone who may be feeling suicidal — whether it’s someone you know or yourself — through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).