MOUNT VERNON — A number of suicides and suicide attempts in Knox County in recent months has prompted many in the community to ask some hard questions.
Why do people commit suicide? Why is the number of suicides and attempts rising? Who is most at risk? Is there any way to tell if someone is contemplating suicide? What is the best way to help someone considering taking their life? What help is available for loved ones left behind to grieve? What resources are available to those in crisis? How do we as a community reach out to those among us who are facing this crisis?
Every year in Ohio, an average of 1,200 people take their own lives, according to the Ohio Suicide Prevention Resource Center.
Last year in Knox County, there were five completed suicides, according to Knox County Coroner Dr. Jennifer Ogle. In the past three months, health officials believe there have been at least that many, with investigations still pending in some cases.
Historically, males are four times as likely to commit suicide, and those over the age of 70 have the highest suicide rates.
Each year in Ohio, over 4,600 people are hospitalized as a result of suicide attempts.
Requests for help from those in emotional crisis and those considering and attempting suicide have also increased, according to mental health providers.
Moundbuilders Guidance Center has seen an increase in requests for its emergency and clinical treatment services. Moundbuilders staff is typically called in by medical professionals to assist people in crisis.
“We’ve definitely had more calls from Knox County,” said Kristin McCloud, executive director of Pathways of Licking and Knox Counties, which runs the 2-1-1 confidential and free crisis hotline.
Lynn Agapi-Gilligan, director of Moundbuilders Guidance Center, and Rich Mentzer, MGC clinical director, said many of the clients they serve have struggled in recent days with losses. The loss of a loved one through death or divorce, the loss of a job, the loss of a home or financial security, all can push people into a state of despair from which they may find themselves unable to escape.
Mentzer said when people find themselves unable to maintain the illusion of a successful life, some find themselves without the ability to cope with the loss they have suffered as well as the shattering of the illusion they have maintained.
McCloud said the reasons for the increase in suicides are not clear cut. Thus far, she said, no research has determined a link between the current economic crisis and suicide.
However, Mentzer said the unprecedented downward turn of the economy is very much on the minds of the clients served by Moundbuilders. He said a foreclosure or lost job can be the “last straw” to someone already on the brink of hopelessness.
McCloud said depression is the most common contributing risk factor for suicide. Someone struggling with depression may be less able to cope with stressors such as extreme financial hardship.
Maj. Robert Bender, commander of the Mount Vernon office of The Salvation Army, said he has no doubts that the burdens which people are carrying right now seem especially heavy.
“I see it every day,” Bender said. “People consistently worry, and the stress level is extremely high. People are hurting emotionally and spiritually, and a lot of it stems from the way the economy is right now.”
Bender said he tries to convey to the people who seek help from The Salvation Army that there is hope, and there is help to overcome the problems people are facing.
He said a difficult part of his job is seeing parents who are at the end of their ropes, having lost their jobs and finding themselves unable to provide for their children, or facing the dilemma of finding their displaced family a place to live.
“I’m seeing people who feel as if they’ve been pushed into a corner, and a lot of times we’re the last hope for people,” he said. “We’re a social service agency but you can’t forget people’s hearts and souls.”
Reaching out to people in the midst of stressful emotional times is a challenge for Bender and representatives of other Knox County agencies.
Community members are stepping forward to recognize and identify the emotional struggle many residents are dealing with, and begin a dialogue to develop strategies to reach those at the deepest levels of crisis.
Counselors, clergy, first responders, mental health professionals and others in the community want those who are facing these challenges to know there is help available.
This week, the News will take a look at different issues surrounding suicide, and listing the resources available for those in emotional turmoil. In Wednesday’s edition, members of the community who have gone through the emotional crisis of attempting or contemplating suicide will discuss their journey toward recovery. Professionals will discuss some risk factors and indicators that someone may be facing this crisis, and what can be done to offer help.