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Eagle editorial: Fight spike in suicides

  • Published Thursday, Oct. 24, 2013, at 12 a.m.

Suicide is a private horror for the affected families. But it’s also a publicly shared shame, which is why a recent spike in such reported deaths in Kansas should be a cause for concern for everybody.

Better data analysis may have something to do with last year’s 31.5 percent spike in resident suicides in Kansas – 505, up from 384 in 2011. But such numbers suggest the problem deserves more attention, discussion and funding.

The 88 suicides locally were the most in the 12 years since the Sedgwick County Suicide Prevention Coalition began tracking such data.

More middle-class, white professional men have been taking their own lives. Half the local victims last year had a history of mental illness, and nearly three-quarters of the 81 toxicology reports conducted showed alcohol or drugs.

The total of 88 local victims sounds like a lot, and it is. But the vastness of the challenge also shows up in the more than 2,400 calls received by Sedgwick County 911 dispatch last year related to suicide threats or attempts, and the 61,000 phone calls for suicide risk or urgent mental health needs logged by Comcare, the county’s community mental health agency. Via Christi Health’s emergency departments dealt with more than 1,300 suicide attempts last year.

Clearly, many people are hurting emotionally to the point of crisis in our community. At least there is a system in place in the county to offer assistance and hope – one that has been fortified in recent years by training law enforcement officers in crisis intervention.

But as Marilyn Cook, Comcare’s executive director, told The Eagle’s Kelsey Ryan: “Without adequate funding, it’s difficult for us to get to everybody who needs care and help.”

Though the Brownback administration notes that total mental health spending has increased since 2011, Comcare has yet to replace state funding lost in cuts dating from 2009.

The restoration of mental health reform grants was included in the 2014 legislative agenda approved Wednesday by the Sedgwick County Commission; the wish list also calls for a sufficient number of state psychiatric hospital beds.

Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Robert Moser has said that he is “deeply concerned” by the suicides and KDHE “is working with other agencies and private organizations to increase awareness and provide tools and resources toward suicide prevention.”

Local leaders, private as well as public, should stand ready to participate in any way they can. And all of us should be mindful of our loved ones and others who might be at risk, and equipped with the information necessary to help as needed. That includes Comcare’s suicide prevention hotline: 316-660-7500.

Know and look for the signs of depression and “listen, listen, listen,” as the Sedgwick County coalition’s annual report advised.

Suicide happens in solitude. Fighting it will take a proactive army.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman

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