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The Courier Press
By Gavin Lesnick ( Contact)
Monday, August 11, 2008
One year after suicides in Vanderburgh County surged to a record level, the numbers are creeping up again.
Through the end of July, officials had investigated 23 suicides in the county. In the first seven months of 2007 when Vanderburgh County recorded 40 self-inflicted deaths by year’s end there had been 25.
The total suicides started out much lower than a year ago, but midyear surges including six cases in July inflated the numbers close to the 2007 level.
“It was kind of like ‘Oh wow, we’re down,'” said Annie Groves, Vanderburgh County chief deputy coroner and a member of the local suicide prevention coalition. “And then it spiked right back up.”
The rash of suicides comes amid community-wide efforts to focus on the causes and forge potential solutions to the ongoing problem.
Among them, the suicide prevention coalition a group of local health organizations, officials, schools, community groups and individuals that plans ways to combat suicide created a board this year that conducts psychological autopsies in each case.
The board meets quarterly, investigating statistical data collected on the deaths and responses to interviews with family members of the deceased.
In the latter, the family members are asked about the suicide victim’s recent health problems, changes in attitude or appearance, medication and an array of other factors.
Officials hope the information will shed light on possible underlying causes that can be targeted with prevention work.
“We’re trying to look at … commonalities amongst the people that have killed themselves that we don’t see on a case-by-case basis,” said Janie Chappell, chairwoman of the prevention coalition and director of business development at Deaconess Cross Pointe. “Is there something we can do that might impact that suicide rate?”
The results are preliminary the board will meet again later this month to look at nine more suicides this year but so far, one element sticks out, Groves said.
In a majority of the cases investigated, the victim was on antidepressant medication. And none of the victims were in counseling.
Prevention efforts may be swayed as more data is collected, but Groves said the group may look to start an education campaign urging people to seek both medication and counseling to effectively fight depression.
“They think (medication) is going to be a quick fix,” Groves said. “Well, it’s not. It’s vital that you have the counseling as well.”
The board plans to continue analyzing suicide data through this year and turn its attention toward implementing possible solutions, Groves said.
Officials keep close tabs on the statistical overview of the suicide victims. The most recent data, which covers the 17 suicides in the first half of this year, shows a near-even split between male and female victims. Relationship problems are the leading contributing factor.
Ten of the 17 killed themselves with a gunshot wound to the head. Three left notes, one sent a text message. Six of them were 60 or older and all were white.
The numbers are inflated to some degree by technicalities in how they are measured.
Six of the cases actually were initiated in other counties, but ended when the suicide victim died at an Evansville hospital.
But the numbers also are likely conservative in another respect, officials said. Through June, there were 18 drug overdoses listed as accidental in Vanderburgh County.
Determining what is really an accident and what might have been intentional is a difficult, sometimes impossible task, Groves said.
“Were half of those suicides?” she said. “That’s a real hard area to get into.”
Deaconess Cross Pointe offers a handful of different educational programs. With the coalition, it offers Question, Persuade & Refer, a suicide education and prevention program. It will be offered to all Evansville Police Department officers in the fall.
Deaconess Cross Pointe also conducts a more intensive, two-day workshop called Applied Suicide Prevention and Intervention. That session offers training for people concerned about family and friends, emergency responders, counselors and volunteers.
The third annual LifeSavers Walk is planned for September to raise suicide awareness and funds to help with prevention efforts.
All of the programs and plans are part of an effort aimed at bringing the suicide rate down.
“It is exceptionally high,” Chappell said. “And we don’t know why.”