Suicide prevention: Acknowledging the growing problem

9/19/2017, 1:35 p.m.
Suicide Prevention Week may have been September 10th through the 16th, but as Will County Health Department Behavioral Health Director ...

Suicide Prevention Week may have been September 10th through the 16th, but as Will County Health Department Behavioral Health Director Dr. Joseph Troiani emphasizes, this prevention must be practiced every single day.

Although there is much talk in the media right now about gang shootings and growing drug problems, deaths due to suicide are often hidden in the background. But statistics have shown that the U.S. suicide rate is now at a 30-year high. Troiani pointed out that one federal data analysis found an increase in each and every age group except older adults.

As recently as 2014 there were 13 suicides for every 100-thouand people in the United States. The rate has risen at an average of two percent each year since 2006. For comparison sake, the reported suicide total of 29,199 deaths in 1999 had risen to 42,773 by 2014.

Is this because we are in “harder times?” Doctor Troiani says these are certainly unique and different times, as all eras are, but not necessarily harder. “There is really no sense in ‘euphoric recall to better times.’ If you go back to 1922, for example, it was not a wonderful time. Our biggest worry might have been that one of our children might die of influenza, or even that that whole family could be wiped out.”

Will County Health Department Behavioral Health Director Dr. Joe Troiani says “lack of interaction” is a major problem for adolescents.

Dr. Scott DuBois, Adult Program Manager for Will County Behavioral Health, says one reason for a lack of focus on the spiking suicide rate is that the media does not put enough attention on it. “What we see on the news so often is shootings and violence, and people respond by saying ‘we must do something.’ But with suicide there is still such a stigma around it. The myth is that if you report on it or talk about it, you’ll immediately have a bunch of copycat action. The much larger, real truth is that you need to talk about it. You need to engage and educate the public. If the issue is not publicly addressed, the stigma remains and we don’t learn anything.”

In today’s world, one group very much prone to suicide attempts continues to be

adolescents. Dr. Troiani says “there are certainly lots of enablers to that;” such as social media, bullying, or an important factor he calls a “lack of interaction.”

“Kids need involvement,” Dr. Troiani explained. “Whether it’s with scouting, sports, the faith-based community, or other areas where they can find support. But now, they are often all alone with their cell phones, building relationships with someone ‘out there in the cloud’ rather that someone ‘on the ground, in front of them, actually there in reality.’ Then if they find themselves in a crisis, they are often all alone.”

Dr. Troiani says as these students approach college age, any involvement with tobacco, alcohol, or marijuana can be a “red flag” that they are having trouble with reality, and may follow these “gateway drugs” into harder drug use that can lead to more hopelessness if they feel themselves in a “no way out” situation.