Health & Fitness

‘The highest rate on record’: Sedgwick County suicide deaths spike

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Ninety-one Sedgwick County residents committed suicide in 2016, up from 68 in 2015.

The suicide rate last year was 17.9 for every 100,000 county residents, according to a report by the Sedgwick County Suicide Prevention Coalition, which has tracked the data since 2001.

“This is the highest rate on record,” said Nicole Klaus, a psychologist with the University of Kansas School of Medicine in Wichita. “This rate is significantly higher than the national trends.”

The rate in 2015 was 13.3 per 100,000 residents.

The greatest number of suicides occurred in people between the ages of 25 and 54. Klaus said they haven’t been able to identify a specific reason why rates in this age group have jumped in recent years but that economic hardship could be a factor.

The 2016 suicide rate also spiked for men, whose rate of suicide remains much higher than women.

The data was produced through a collaboration with the Sedgwick County Division of Health and the Regional Forensic Science Center.

“It’s sobering to see these numbers,” Commissioner Jim Howell said.

Klaus said everyone can help prevent suicide by being more aware of the warning signs.

“Take it seriously and know the local resources,” Klaus said.

316-660-7500 Sedgwick County Suicide Prevention and Crisis Hotline

The 24-hour crisis and suicide prevention hotline in Sedgwick County is 316-660-7500. Comcare also offers walk-in crisis services 24 hours a day at the community crisis center at 635 N. Main in Wichita.

“It needs to be talked about so we can be alert and helpful,” Chairman Dave Unruh said. “We can recognize the signs and we can respond.”

“We just need to take the time to be aware of those folks, whether it’s family members or not, who indicate some of those signs and be willing … to reach out and try to help,” he added.

Warning signs

Tisha Darland, Comcare’s director of crisis and outpatient services, said those who attempt suicide sometimes openly threaten to hurt or kill themselves. They also start seeking ways or taking steps to do that, like purchasing a gun or hoarding medication.

“It could be something as specific as buying a rope,” Darland said.

Darland said vague talk or writing about death can be a warning sign, as well as feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness.

“Not feeling useful anymore can really trigger some of those thoughts,” she said.

Kids and young adults who attempt suicide often begin acting recklessly or dangerously, like they aren’t afraid of death, Darland said.

Increased drug or alcohol use, insomnia, giving away pets or prized possessions and withdrawal from society, friends, family and social activities are also warning signs of suicide. Darland said people with increased anger or rage can start thinking of suicide.

“Often with kids and men, we see that more as an acting out,” Darland said.

Sudden mood swings are also a warning sign, including people who go suddenly from a negative outlook to a positive disposition, Darland said.

“They may have finally made the decision,” she said. “We’ve heard family members say…‘we thought he or she was better.’”

Daniel Salazar: 316-269-6791, @imdanielsalazar