Suicide rate climbs in Caldwell

Dec. 19, 2013 @ 08:04 AM

The suicide rate has consistently risen in Caldwell County over the past 16 years, trending up as the economy has struggled.

For the first time, suicide now ranks among the top 10 causes of death in the county, said Brittany Crump, health education supervisor at the Health Department. As she was compiling statistics for the current State of the County Health Report, Crump said, the steady climb of the suicide rate stuck out.

In 2011, the most recent year for which statistics have been compiled, there were 19 suicides, accounting for 2.2 percent of the total deaths in the county, ranking suicide the eighth-leading cause of death.

The top two causes, heart disease and cancer, together account for 380 deaths, 23.9 percent of the total.

Suicide in Caldwell County has been on the rise since the late 1990s and consistently stays above the N.C. and U.S. average rates.

The suicide rate climbed from 13.4 deaths per 100,000 residents in the period from 1997-2001 to 17.3 in 2007-2011; during the same time period, North Carolina’s rate rose slightly, from 11.4 per 100,000 to 12.1.

In 2011, suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., at a rate of 12.3, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2010, someone in the U.S. killed themselves every 14 minutes.

Crump said it’s hard to pinpoint what causes a high suicide rate but said the economy could be a factor.

The unemployment rate in Caldwell County reached a low point of 1.6 percent in May 1999 after years of mostly remaining below 4 percent, but in 2001 it climbed much higher. From mid-2001 to Sept. 2008, the local unemployment rate mostly stayed between 6 and 9 percent, but when the effects of the recession hit the rate climbed to 14.6 percent in February 2009 and hit a high of 17 percent in February 2010.

The unemployment rate has been gradually decreasing ever since and hit a five-year low of 8.3 percent in October, but some people maintain the rate is that low only because so many people have given up trying to find work and are not counted in the labor force anymore. The number of people in the state’s work force declined 1.5 percent from October 2012 to October 2013 even while the total number of people employed grew by 0.55 percent, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond.

Deborah Mirco, emergency department director at Caldwell Memorial Hospital, said the emergency room sees about 10 patients per month from intentional self-harm. They often are in their 30s or 40s. Most suicide attempts involve medication overdoses rather than the use of weapons.

When it comes to fighting suicides in Caldwell County, a number of local resources are available, including RHA Behavioral Health, Caldwell Memorial, school counselors, police departments and churches, said Denise Michaud, director of the Caldwell County Health Department.

“I think first and foremost is making people aware that it is a concern,” Michaud said. “I think that’s the first step in addressing any issue, letting people know it’s a problem and working together to try and solve it.”