Two Teen-Aged Girls Kill Selves: Coroner Is Alarmed at Link Between These Suicides & Depression Meds

Paragraphs 11 through 14 read:   "So far in 2009, suicides are down from this time last year, according to first-quarter data recorded by the St. Joseph County Health Department."

"As for more people committing suicide based on economic troubles, St. Joseph County coroners say they just aren't seeing it."

"Dr. Michael O'Connell said he can think of only one recent suicide that was likely related to a person struggling with economy-related problems."

"What is far more concerning, he said, are the recent suicides of two young female teenagers. The coroner said he worries about the possible link between certain antidepressants and suicidal behavior in young adults."

http://www.southbendtribune.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090629/News01/906290304/1011/News

What do the statistics say?

Local deaths caused by crash injuries, cancers are down, but dementia-related deaths are up.

By ALICIA GALLEGOS
Tribune Staff Writer

Second of two parts

SOUTH BEND � Death does not discriminate.

The fateful finale of a person's life can be at any time, for any reason.
 
Yet, some ends are more expected than others, and some causes of death are more common.

Before delving into the illnesses, accidents and incidents that lead to the highest number of deaths locally, let's take a look at some surprising death data.

A Tribune analysis of death statistics has found that some prominent causes of death are actually on the decline, while others have remained steady despite recent attention that might suggest otherwise.

Take, for instance, suicide.

Suicidal tendencies

The headlines on national news Web sites and across television screens seem to be common these days.

A man or woman stricken with economic woes turns desperate, taking the lives of family members before ending his or her own.

No doubt the economy may be leading to more bouts of depression and senses of hopelessness, but it's not necessarily true that more people are killing themselves.

Suicides in St. Joseph County rose slightly in 2008 to 35, up by six from 2007, but the numbers have remained relatively constant over the last few years. Between 2004 and 2008, 2006 showed the highest number of suicides at 41, according to health department data.

In Elkhart County, suicides dropped by 11 from 2007 to 2008, and in Marshall County they rose by one. Berrien County health department officials could not provide 2008 death data.

So far in 2009, suicides are down from this time last year, according to first-quarter data recorded by the St. Joseph County Health Department.

As for more people committing suicide based on economic troubles, St. Joseph County coroners say they just aren't seeing it.

Dr. Michael O'Connell said he can think of only one recent suicide that was likely related to a person struggling with economy-related problems.

What is far more concerning, he said, are the recent suicides of two young female teenagers. The coroner said he worries about the possible link between certain antidepressants and suicidal behavior in young adults.

Accidental demises

High gas prices � and less money to spend � might be contributing to less dying while driving.

In St. Joseph County last year, motor vehicle deaths were the lowest they have been for the last five years, according to health department data.

Twenty-one people died from vehicle crashes in 2008, down by 10 from the previous year. First-quarter data for 2009 is not yet broken down into specific causes.

Medical advancements and progressions in trauma treatment could be one reason for the decrease.

"I think we have some outstanding surgeons here," says St. Joseph County Deputy Coroner Chuck Hurley.

The county's largest hospital, Memorial, has been operating as a Level II trauma center for five years, meaning the facility has the ability to care for a higher level of trauma cases. Patients come to Memorial from across northern Indiana and some parts of Michigan.

Recent advancements at the hospital include a better blood transfusion protocol, says clinical nurse specialist Jan Howard, in which patients are rushed to the operating room faster with the right mix of blood on hand. Also helping is the frequent use of a Thromobo-elasto-gram, or TEG, says Howard, which analyzes blood clots.

But hospital data also show that even the number of patients coming into the hospital with critical injuries from vehicle accidents has gone down. Residents treated for serious to critical injuries from vehicle accidents were at 166 in 2007 and 148 in 2008, according to data provided by the hospital.

Howard says the economy could be playing a part in the drop of fatal crashes.

"People are driving less," she said. "And staying home."

The number of all severe trauma patients visiting Memorial in 2008 was steady with the previous year, according to hospital data, including penetrating, blunt-force and burn injuries.

An accidental cause of death that officials say they are seeing more of lately is accidental drug overdoses.

Hurley said he has seen a spike in drug deaths from recreational use, especially among users who mix certain hard drugs.

Cocaine is a common drug being mixed, he said, along with heroin.

O'Connell added that methadone overdoses have risen.

Homicides and you

The number of people dying at the hands of another person went up last year and so far this year is on track with 2008, with 10 having been reported so far, according to Tribune statistics.

Homicides in St. Joseph County topped 20 last year, the highest number since 2003.

Yet being killed by another person is rare when considering the rate of other causes of death and the circumstantial factors of homicide.

National studies have also frequently shown that people are more often killed by someone they know than by a stranger.

Natural deaths

Among the various ways people die is the lineup of usual suspects. At least one of these natural killers, however, has recently lost some of its effectiveness.

Cancer deaths are down in St. Joseph County for the first time since 2003, according to health department reports.

Deaths by lung, prostate, lymphoma, pancreatic and some skin cancers all decreased in 2008, statistics show. A total of 530 people died from cancer last year, compared with 558 the year before.

Earlier awareness and diagnosis of some cancers is contributing to the lower rates, notes Barb Baker, nursing director for the St. Joseph County Health Department.

Community education about certain cancers is leading to more people receiving routine checks, such as mammograms, Baker said.

The tax increase on tobacco could also be linked to a lower rate of lung cancer, Baker said, with more people quitting smoking.

Despite the decreases, cancer is still the most prevalent cause of natural death. Following close behind is that of heart disease.

Coronary artery disease and congestive heart failure are listed in the top five most frequent causes of death.

Also of note are Alzheimer's-r
elated and dementia-related deaths, which rose from 124 to 195.

Alzheimer's expert Melissa Barile believes the increase relates to more reporting of the disease.

The regional director for the Alzheimer's Association of Greater Indiana recently gave a speech about the illness at Madison Center in South Bend. She spoke about the growing epidemic of Alzheimer's and its forecast.

Alzheimer's disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States, according to association information.

In 2009, it is estimated that there are as many as 5.3 million Americans currently living with Alzheimer's, studies show, and that number is expected to grow to as many as 16 million by 2050.

"It's a health crisis," Barile said. "The number one risk factor is age. We are going to be inundated with persons affected with Alzheimer's."

Staff writer Alicia Gallegos:
agallegos@sbtinfo.com
(574) 235-6368