Fewer people commit suicide in 2012
BY JERRY WOFFORD World Staff Writer
Sunday, January 06, 2013
1/06/13 at 7:30 AM
While the number of suicides dropped last year from the record set in 2011, officials said that record year was a shock that led to changes in how police and mental health workers respond to people in distress.
There were 62 people who took his or her own life in 2012 in Tulsa. That's down from the 89 suicides in 2011, but closer to the numbers seen in the five years before.
Mental health officials and police are encouraged that the number waned last year, but such a high number is still concerning.
"One is too many," said Mike Brose, executive director of the Mental Health Association in Tulsa. "Your readers, very few of them, are aware that the number of suicides in this country are about twice as many as homicides. We find people are not aware of how common it is."
Nationally, suicide was the 10th-leading cause of death in 2009 among people age 10 and older, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Homicide was 15th, according to the latest national data. There were 46 homicides in Tulsa in 2012.
The reasons for the fluctuation in cases from year to year is as varied as each case and situation, officials said. That makes it difficult to explain when numbers spike or fall.
"It is very difficult to identify the factors that would cause that to fluctuate each year," Brose said. "We have seen years where it spikes and we've seen years where it's dropped."
The vast majority of suicides last year were among men, statistics provided by the Tulsa Police Department show. Most of those died by gunshot wounds and were in the 20-to-30 age range.
'Good community partner'
The record number of suicides in 2011 was part of what led to a change in how police and mental health professionals respond not just to suicides, but suicide attempts and suicidal thoughts.
Maj. Tracie Lewis, head of the Gilcrease Division and a leader in the department's mental health programs, said an officer was appointed last year to follow up on suicide attempts among other duties focused on mental health.
In December alone, there were 169 suicidal subject calls and 155 people in distress who were taken into protective custody, Lewis said.
"To do it right and all the things we need to do, we needed a person who that's their whole task," Lewis said.
Police tracked suicide attempts with more intensity than in earlier years, and officers would follow up with those who attempted suicide to try to get them more help, said Sgt. Dave Walker, head of the department's homicide unit that also investigates suicides.
Walker said his department tracked 188 attempted suicides in 2012.
By following up with those who attempt suicide, they hope to prevent it from occurring again.
"We can steer those people to some sort of mental health assistance, ... ," Walker said. "Hopefully that's what's happening."
Lewis said the department's new mental health liaison, Officer Susannah Ralston, is working to focus her position and how the department can respond to the community's needs, but the goal is to keep people who need help from falling through the cracks.
It's an odd position for police to be in, Lewis said. Suicide responses are typically the area of social workers and other mental heath professionals, but police and other first responders tend to be the first contact of someone in distress.
"But you have to hook them up somehow" with help, Lewis said. "We're just trying to do our part to make that happen. We're just trying to do right by the community and be a good community partner."
Brose said his organization hopes to get treatment for people who are distressed or suicidal before police or emergency crews respond. That starts with better preventive mental health care and an informed public that is not afraid to ask questions when they see a friend or loved one in pain.
A first step for everyone is to break down the stigma associated with mental illness.
"It has this long legacy, history that goes way back to when we didn't know what mental illness was," Brose said. "It was completely misunderstood and frightful for people in a way physical health historically has not been."
The Mental Health Association in Tulsa will soon be working to educate people about the QPR method - question, persuade and refer - of how people can help anyone who is suicidal.
"That's sort of the CPR concept for identify friends or loved ones who may need help," Brose said. "Some people say, 'I just don't know what to say to them.' Well, here's what you can do. It's designed for the layperson to understand basic steps."
The first step is to simply ask what is wrong. That may be what helps bring that person back from the edge, Brose said.
"You have to be able to talk about it and see it for what it is and do that in a way that people can be more confident to ask their loved one, 'What's going on with you,' " Brose said. "People are still afraid to ask that first question."
Next is to persuade the person to seek help, "including the willingness of the person to go with them," Brose said.
The final step is referring the person to professional help, if needed. The Mental Health Association in Tulsa can help direct people to where they can get help in the community, Brose said.
"People may know where to go if they have a flu or a sore throat. But if they have mental health issues, they don't know where to go," Brose said. "We consider that one of the most important services people provide to the community."
Treatment for depression or suicidal thoughts needs to start with people opening up about suicide and breaking through the stigma, Brose said.
"It's incumbent on us to get it out to the public so we can begin to talk about it," Brose said.
Under 20: 5
70 and older: 8
Source: Tulsa Police Department, Tulsa World archives
Where to call for help
In a crisis or emergency: Call 911
Tulsa Helpline: 211
Mental Health Association in Tulsa: 918-585-1213
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-TALK (8255)
Original Print Headline: Suicides decline in 2012
Jerry Wofford 918-581-8310