Suicide rate in county is higher than the average for nation

It would be hard to say how many phone calls the Mental Health America of Licking County office gets from people asking about services for mental health issues, but suffice to say it’s a fair amount.

In any given year, 1 in 5 people in the U.S. suffers from some kind of mental illness, and Licking County is not immune to the problem.

Penny Sitler, executive director of the county organization, said the office gets calls “all the time” in addition to people walking into the office looking for help. The number of calls shows the prevalence of mental health illness in the community, but it also shows people are interested in getting help.

“The thing about mental health disorders is that they are treatable. People need to seek out help when something is going on,” Sitler said.

If it’s a case in which someone is concerned about a friend or family member suffering from a mental health disorder, the concerned party should reach out to the loved one or seek the help of a professional to get that person into treatment, Sitler said.

“Early intervention and prevention are the keys. We shouldn’t be waiting until people are dangers to themselves or other people before we get them help,” she said.

With high rates of mental illness comes an increased potential for suicide attempts. Nationally, the suicide rate is 12.6 per 100,000 residents. The incidence of suicide is higher in Licking County, with a suicide rate of 14.7 per 100,000 residents.

In 2012, there were 33 completed suicides in Licking County. That number decreased to 20 completed suicides in 2013 and 17 through October of 2014. Data for November and December 2014 have not yet been finalized.

There has been an increased spotlight on suicide in the community after two inmates in the Licking County Justice System died after attempting suicide in earlier this month.

The jail has been struggling to combat suicide inside its facility since 2011. Six people have died from suicide attempts at the jail since 2011, and there have been more than 44 attempts in that time period.

“The numbers are up in the community and in the state. If the jail is a microcosm of your community, then you’re going to have those issues here too,” said Licking County Sheriff Randy Thorp.

Nationally, budget cuts have forced mental health facilities to close their doors and reduce services, leaving people without treatment options and in a vulnerable state, Thorp said. It is unfortunate, but in many cases, those people run afoul of the law and end up in jail rather than a treatment facility, he said.

Staff at the sheriff’s office and jail are trained to recognize signs of mental illness and do their best to identify people who might pose a risk to themselves.

When talking about depression and risk of suicide, there are signs to look out for, said Justina Wade, suicide prevention specialist with Mental Health America of Licking County. Symptoms of depression include moodiness, withdrawal from activities or friends, changes in sleeping or eating patterns, as well as saying things such as “I don’t know why I’m here” or “There’s no point in living anymore.”

“Sometimes people say they don’t display any type of warning signs, but usually there is some sort of warning sign. … It’s just a matter of recognizing it,” Wade said.

To help people who want to better understand how to recognize and assist others experiencing symptoms of mental illnesses, the county organization has started offering Mental Health First Aid courses. The next class will be Jan. 30 at the Licking County Library, 101 W. Main St., in Newark. There is no cost for the training but preregistration is required.

For more information, call the organization at 740-522-1341 or visit www.mhalc.org.

If you are contemplating suicide or are concerned about a family member or friend, call the 211 Crisis Hotline by dialing 2-1-1 or calling 740-345-HELP (4357) or 1-800-544-1601. You can also call 1-800-273-TALK (8255), which is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. These phone lines are monitored 24/7.

emaddern@newarkadvocate.com

740-328-8513

Twitter: @emmaddern

Found in The Newark Advocate, January 23, 2015

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