Wood County sees spike in ‘silent epidemic’ of suicide

ADAMHS Executive Director Tom Clemons talks about suicides in Wood County.

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN

BG Independent News

 

Wood County’s “silent epidemic” is no longer so hushed. The suicide deaths of celebrities Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade have cast some light on the incidences of people taking their own lives, said Tom Clemons, executive director of Wood County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services.

Suicides are responsible for more deaths each year in Wood County than opiate overdoses.

“We’ve had quite a few of them in the county,” Clemons said Tuesday during a meeting with the Wood County Commissioners.

The county used to average six to seven suicide deaths a year.

“That’s too many,” Clemons said.

And then they spiked.

In 2015 there were 17; in 2016 there were 20; in 2017 there was a drop to 11; and this year the county is on pace to hit 25.

“It’s a very disturbing trend,” he said.

And the numbers could actually be higher, since suicide by overdose is sometimes recorded as accidental.

Wood County has a high rate of suicide among first responders, and a higher than average rate for adult males between 35 and 55 – which accounts for 77 percent of the cases in the county.

The rate of suicide among local youth is low, Clemons said.

“We believe that’s due to a whole number of factors,” he said.

After a spike in teen suicides about a decade ago, several programs were implemented to change that trend. Prevention programs include the Signs of Suicide (SOS) program and bullying initiatives.

“They build resiliency in kids,” Clemons said. “These things have been shown to be very effective.”

In response to the increase in adult suicides, the ADAMHS board recently decided to fund a mobile crisis response that will take the place of The Link crisis center. The new unit is expected to be in operation by July 1.

The mobile unit will respond to crises wherever the person is – at home, work, a store, or a park, Clemons said. It will have unlimited capacity for calls, so no one calling in for help will be put on hold, he added.

“Everybody who answers the phone is thoroughly trained in crisis response,” he said of the new hotline.

The ADAMHS board also funded training in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, designed for people who are suicidal, self-harming or aggressive to others. The therapy has been proven very successful, Clemons said, and focuses on self-calming skills, mindfulness and meditation techniques.

When the training is complete, Wood County should have 30 to 40 therapists available with expertise in the DBT techniques.

For families or friends concerned about how to spot suicidal behavior, the National Alliance on Mental Health in Wood County offers “first aid” training on the warning signs of suicide and suggestions of how to intervene, Clemons said.

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