Suicides on the rise in Arizona - East Valley Tribune: Arizona

Suicides on the rise in Arizona

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Posted: Monday, October 18, 2010 3:37 pm | Updated: 2:55 pm, Wed Oct 20, 2010.

Arizona's suicide rate is ticking upward, sparking grave concern among health officials.

In 2007, there were 15.4 suicides per 100,000 people, said Markay Adams, a suicide prevention coordinator with the Arizona Department of Health Services' behavioral health division. Last year, that grew to 16.1 per 100,000 people

"We've been consistently higher in the past 10 years, which is something that's not uncommon among the Western states," Adams said, noting experts have not targeted a reason behind the Western states' higher rates. "We continue to see that men have a higher rate than women, but females do attempt more."

The most recent national rate, from 2007, is 11.3 suicides per 100,000 people.

This week, the Arizona Suicide Prevention Coalition is hosting a statewide conference that will address suicide among teens, Native Americans and middle-age men.

Just as bullying and suicide makes national headlines, Alan Berman, a national expert on the topic, will also speak.

Adams said there is a push among public health officials to break the stigma attached to suicidal thoughts - making it easier for people to discuss it and seek help.

"We do want people to seek treatment, whether it's for mental health or substance abuse or other underlying factors that puts them at increased risk for suicide," she said. "About 90 percent of those who die by suicide have a history of depression or substance abuse."

The American Association of Suicidology recently made a statement that there is "no clear association with times of economic recession," and suicide rates, but there is a "clear and direct relationship between rates of unemployment and suicide."

Arizona's unemployment rate in August was the highest it's been in nearly 30 years, at 9.7 percent.

"We don't know what will make one person at risk. Someone may feel a loss of a job and foreclosure and not have any thoughts of suicide," Adams said.

The state recently received a second federal grant to address suicide among youth and Native Americans, Adams said.

Stress in families may be leading to an increase in calls to Teen LifeLine, said Nikki Kontz, the group's clinical coordinator and a licensed master's level social worker.

"Traditionally we had it where it might be a situation or a breakdown within a child or a system in the child's life," Kontz said. "Now what we're seeing is an increase in calls and, even more than that, there's an entire breakdown in the family unit."

Teen LifeLine works to get resources to those who call. Kontz said in the past she's made more referrals to counseling or substance abuse programs for teen in need of help. Today, Teen LifeLine is referring entire families to counseling for stress and financial issues, as well as finding them a shelter or food.

"Kids aren't necessarily able to verbally communicate the stresses in the family. Developmentally in children it comes out in other areas. When there's stress in the entirely family they're not able to articulate that. They can't articulate that parents are having a tough time keeping us afloat ... They see mom and dad are fighting more or are more stressed - an increase in family stress that ultimately causes stress to kids."

September was Suicide Prevention Month and Markay's group led a number of school officials through awareness training and activities.

"There is a lot of collaboration. Across the state there's different opportunities whether it's depression screening or bullying interventions," she said.

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