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Dawson still ranks high in suicides
Sept. 9-15 is National Suicide Prevention Week
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It’s a topic not talked about enough and word that still comes in the form of a whisper: Suicide.

In June 2018, the Center for Disease Control reported that suicide rates in Georgia have increased by 16 percent from 1999 to 2016, with 1,452 deaths by suicide confirmed in the state just last year.

A 2017 report from Georgia’s Commission on Children’s mental Health stated that suicide was the third leading cause of death for ages 10-24 in Georgia in 2015, with 51 children between the ages of 5 and 17 killing themselves in 2015 and 2016.

On a more local level, the Georgia Department of Public Health reports that there have been 78 suicides in Dawson County between 1997 and 2017.

“There is nobody in this community that wants to see suicide rates go down more than me and my staff,” said Dawson County Coroner Ted Bearden.

Working on suicide cases is very difficult for Bearden as families are left heartbroken and looking for answers that can’t be provided.

“Sometimes the answer’s not there,” he said.

In 2017, there were six suicides in the county – the same year that Dawson was ranked eighth out of 159 counties in the state for suicide as a cause of death.

“For a county our size that’s pretty high,” Bearden said. Dawson County has a population of around 24,000 people.

From 2013 to 2015, the Georgia Department of Public Health reported that Dawson County had the highest rate of suicide of all reported counties in the state, at 33.4 per 100,000 people.

While the county is no longer leading the state in deaths by suicide, Region 1 – which includes Dawson and north Georgia – still has a suicide rate higher than the state average.

Rural counties, which include Dawson County, also have a higher average suicide rate than non-rural counties.

According to Joe Stapp of Blue Ridge Counseling, veterans, the LGBT community, those with chronic pain or terminal illness, people who have been bullied or cyberbullied and those coping with a significant loss in their lives are some of the most at-risk groups for committing suicide.

In recent years, instruments such as the Columbia Suicide Severity Rating Scale have been developed that better identify people at risk, making it easier for healthcare professionals and counselors to understand the warning signs.

Someone exhibiting suicidal thoughts or tendencies might withdraw from relationships and activities they enjoy, focus on death and talk about wanting to die, show signs of despair and self-neglect, have drastic swings in mood or sleep or increase or start abusing substances.

“Sometimes it’s just an odd feeling where you talk to somebody and it feels as though they’re saying goodbye. It’s more than just ‘I’ll see you next time,’” Stapp said, “They are saying 'goodbye’ for the last time.”

Another warning sign is dramatic change in personality and mood. It’s not just a sudden change to anger, anxiety, or depression but also a change from troubled to calm and peaceful, Stapp said.

“In those situations, people around that person say ‘I didn’t see any signs.’ The reason for becoming peaceful is due to the suicidal person coming to a sense of acceptance. They are often saying to themselves, ‘I’m going to commit suicide and now; I finally have a solution to the problem,’” Stapp said.

In reality, suicide is not a solution to a problem and can actually lead to a more devastation on a larger scale.

The International Association for Suicide Prevention stated that for each suicide death, 135 people are affected. 

“One person’s suicide affects family, friends, the whole school, the workplace, and others with whom the person has had contact. That person has transferred their pain to the entire community,” Stapp said.

Relatives and close friends of people who die by suicide are a high-risk group for suicide as well, due to the psychological trauma of a suicide loss and potential shared familial and environmental risk, suicide contagion through the process of social modelling and the burden of stigma associated with the loss.

Often when Stapp is counseling a client exhibiting warning signs or expressing their desire to commit suicide he asks: "If you could have relief for the emotional pain you’re going through right now, would you do it?"

Nearly all of them say that, no, if they had relief from their emotional pain they would not commit suicide.

"I tell them ‘Then you’re not looking for death. You’re looking to feel better so we need to figure out a way to make you feel better,'" he said.

Stapp said the best way to help someone who might be struggling is to ask if they have thoughts of committing suicide and being open to listening to what they have to say.

“Let people talk. Take a deep breath. If you hear somebody say ‘yes I’ve had thoughts of killing myself’ one of the worst things you can do is try to talk them out of it,” Stapp said.

Redirecting someone who is suicidal to all the positive reasons they have for living can cause them to shut down.

“They’re going to say ‘yep you’re right. I won't do it' though they still have that intention. The suicidal person is simply going to give them the answer they want,” he said.

Being open and allowing that person to express their feelings and asking them if they have experienced suicidal thoughts is the best way to reach out to someone who exhibits warning signs.

For more information on Suicide Prevention Awareness Month visit Suicidepreventionlifeline.org or BeThe1To.com.

The Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255 and the Georgia Crisis and Access Line 1-800-715-4225. Georgia also offers a crisis text line by texting “HOME” to 741741.