30 deaths in Vanderburgh County already exceed 2006 total — (Evansville Courier and Press)

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Evansville Courier and Press

By Libby Keeling

Friday, September 28, 2007

Suicides in the first nine months of the year have outpaced the total reported in Vanderburgh County in 2006, and ­ at 30  the loss of life is threatening to reach record-breaking proportions.

Last year, 29 people died by suicide, and county records indicate suicides have averaged between 25 and 30 since 1984. The county record is 31.

“We’ve still got three months to go, so we consider this a problem,” said Annie Groves, Vanderburgh County chief deputy coroner.

“We are working on it. We’ve got our coalition that’s really working on prevention.”

Groves is a trainer with the Southwestern Indiana Suicide Prevention Coalition. The group is dedicated to raising awareness, providing education and addressing the stigma associated with suicide.

“In our area, we don’t recognize mental illness as an illness. People don’t ask for help,” Groves said. “Let’s look at it as an illness, not a weakness.”

Ninety percent of people who take their own lives are suffering from some form of mental illness, most frequently depression, trainer Kent Leslie said at a coalition program earlier this month.

Locally, the coroner’s office is finding many who die by suicide are taking antidepressant medication but are not undergoing counseling. Groves said a combination of medication and therapy is most effective.

“Also high right now are the numbers of people being treated for mental illness. The hospitals are operating at capacity, so people are getting help,” she said. “We are saving lives, but we still have a lot of work to do.”

Four out of five people who died by suicide this year in Vanderburgh County were white men, according to statistics provided by the coroner’s office. Two-thirds of local suicide deaths have occurred among ages 20 to 59.

The greatest number of suicides in one age group has been eight in the 20 to 29 group. The youngest person to die by suicide was 10; the oldest was around 80.

Half of those taking their own lives had experienced a relationship problem and nearly 25 percent had experienced a health problem.

Many had been using alcohol and drugs.

More than half the deaths were the result of self-inflicted gunshot wounds. Hanging, drug overdose and carbon monoxide poisoning accounted for the rest.

According to Leslie, about 31,000 people die by suicide each year nationwide, which breaks down to about 86 lives lost every day. About two Hoosiers take their own lives every 12 hours, he said, and suicide has become the second-leading cause of death for Indiana youth.

“If this were an airplane and we had 86 people on board crashing every day: Bam! No survivors. Bam! No survivors. Bam! No survivors. You would see it everywhere,” Leslie said.

“We don’t see that with suicide and part of that is due to the stigma of people who die by suicide, and that’s why we want to change it.”

Coalition volunteers are available to present a variety of free programs to groups of all ages.

“I think it’s a public health epidemic,” Leslie said. “And we have to spread the word to reduce people from dying”

Available presentations include the Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention Program; Question, Persuade & Refer; Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training and suicide TALK. For information, call Janie Chappell, 471-4521.

The coalition also will host a LifeSavers Walk on Saturday in Garvin Park to raise funds and awareness.

“People can walk in memory of their loved ones, and that’s a big step,” Groves said. “I think that’s one of the real positive things ­ that they can walk in memory of a loved one and know that there are other people out there.”