Fixing depression takes more than a pill: coroner — (Courier and Press)

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Evansville Courier and Press

Fixing depression takes more than a pill: coroner | NEWSMAKERS

by Mizell Stewart III

Posted August 15, 2010 at 12:29 a.m.

It’s become a familiar and troubling refrain in Vanderburgh County ­ a record number of people are committing suicide, choosing to end their own lives. On the average, someone commits suicide in America once every 16.2 minutes, and it’s the third leading cause of death for individuals between the ages of 15 and 24.

This week on Newsmakers, a weekly public-affairs program co-produced by WNIN-PBS9 and The Courier & Press, Vanderburgh County Coroner Annie Groves discusses the statistics and what can be done to prevent suicides. Elected in 2008, she has been a leading advocate for suicide prevention.

The following is an edited transcript of Groves’ interview with Courier & Press Editor Mizell Stewart III. The entire interview can be seen at 11:30 a.m. today on WNIN.

Q: Vanderburgh County set a record in 2009 with 49 self-inflicted deaths. Now, not every victim actually inflicted the wounds on themselves in Vanderburgh County, but that was the number (of) who actually died here. Based on what you’ve seen, are we headed for another record in 2010?

A: We are already seven ahead of where we were last year at this time. Our total right now is we’ve had 24 suicides this year.

Q: And what are some of the factors that you’re seeing as contributing to that?

A: Well, when I do my studies, one of the things that we do is we do a psychological autopsy on everyone, also. And when we go through our questionnaire and we ask questions, one of the questions that I’ve taken notice of this year is 11 of them were directly related to finances and the economy.

Q: So someone who would lose his job and become despondent?

A: Well, you know, they lose their job, they lose their home, they lose hope and they think there’s no other way out.

Q: And why do you feel like, seemingly, a growing number of people just feel the walls closing in so much that there’s no other way out?

A: Well, I think some of it is that the numbers are kind of unusual because the people are actually going to get the anti-depressants, but they’re not getting counseling. They have the courage to say “I need an anti-depressant.” And anti-depressants don’t work like a pain pill. A pain pill, you take and the pain goes away. Well, with depression, it doesn’t work like that. You have to have the counseling also.

Q: And is it because the resources are lacking in the community for people to get it or is it just people are not following through?

A: We have the resources. What I’ve done, and with some of the studies that I’ve looked into, it’s a stigmatism. There’s a stigmatism, and in Vanderburgh County, we’re a German community, you know, that thinks it’s a weakness. And it’s not, it’s an illness, and it needs to be treated as such.

Q: So taking a pill is OK, going to a counselor is something else entirely.

A: Research has shown that both works best. It also has shown that in your teenagers, counseling works better than medication for the teenagers.

Q: For younger people?

A: For younger people and like 20 to 29 years old, too. The counseling would work better for them than medication.

Q: OK. What are some of the things that people should look out for when it comes to dealing with a loved one who is depressed? What are some of the signs that somebody might be thinking about ending his own life?

A: Well, the mood changes. The rapid weight loss, or gain. What they talk about. Then some other things you need to look for is sometimes the hardest part of ruling a suicide is the person that has been depressed suddenly is OK. They seem to be OK. The reason is that they’ve made their decision, and they’re at peace with their decision. So, they are happy and they know they’re going to end the pain. And that’s real hard for a family that watched someone struggle with depression, and now suddenly you think the person is doing real well, and that’s when they complete the suicide.

Q: When you suspect that someone might be thinking about ending his life own life, isn’t there a fear sometimes of even wanting to talk about it to talk about them for fear they might actually do it?

A: Yes, there is. In fact, in teenagers the studies have been shown that every teenager that has completed suicide has told a friend. However, the friend didn’t want to tell an adult because they didn’t want the other friend mad at them. And it’s also been proven 100 percent of the time when you intervene, the person thanks you for that.

Q: You’ve talked about this community being very conservative, the culture is not of talking about problems and sharing problems. And yet the economy, there are communities all over the country where you have those same kind of conservative values. Is the economy stressing people more here in your opinion because of job losses and foreclosure?

A: Yeah, it is. And I think if you just kind of look at the news, Whirlpool’s closing, it doesn’t look bright, even though our economy’s better than a lot. We’re thriving more than a lot of people. However, when you are out of work, and you’re looking for work, and you can’t find work, you can’t see anything positive. The only thing you see is negative.

Q: Let’s talk about those who are left behind after suicide after someone commits suicide. How are survivors affected?

A: First of all, accepting it is hard. That’s the first part is they can’t accept the fact. And then once they try to accept the fact they blame themselves. “Only if I would have done this. Only if I would have done that.” Once the decision’s made, you can’t blame yourself.