Arizona’s high suicide rate spurs ideas for change

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Suicide takes 1,000 Arizonans lives each year. It’s important to look for the signs of suicide to help prevent it. Photo courtesy of Alliance for Suicide Prevention.

Approximately three Arizonans die by suicide each day.

The state ranks 8th in death by suicides. It is the second leading cause of death for Arizonans ages 10 to 24.

According to Suicide Prevention Alliance of Southern Arizona, more than 1,000 Arizonans die by suicide every year. In Arizona, more people die by suicide than by homicide. Although suicide is a choice, experts believe it can still be prevented with the right education and awareness.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) is on a mission to prevent deaths by suicide through creating programs, educating communities about the issue, raising money for research and connecting with those who have had to experience a loss from suicide.

Steve Schiro, the president of AFSP- Arizona Chapter,  lost his own son to suicide. He prefers a terminology in referencing suicide. He wants people to say that someone “dies by suicide” rather than “commits suicide.” Schiro says “committing” can often be associated very negatively just like committing a murder, robbery or another crime.

“Suicide is a means of death brought on by disease,” Schiro said. “We often use the terminology incorrectly. Suicide is brought on primarily by disease of the brain and suicide becomes the end of that disease.”

Schiro says one of the keys to understanding the diseases of the brain is to better understand mental illnesses.

“What we need to be asking is can we help someone who is struggling with a mental illness better,” Schiro said. “You know you wouldn’t wait until a person has a heart attack to start treating heart disease. You would start treating them really early on to prevent the heart attack. Inevitably, the heart attack sometimes does still happen, and the same goes for suicide.”

Schiro says finding the problems earlier through diagnosis, treatment and reducing stigmas around people that might be emotionally upset could help prevent suicide. Others can intercept at an earlier age and help prevent death by suicide. Finding problems earlier can relate to recognizing changes in behavior and trying to talk to someone about those changes rather than just ignoring it.

Talking to someone who has experienced a loss of a loved one through suicide can be a tough task. It’s important to not overstep boundaries when talking to someone experiencing a loss to suicide, says Schiro.

Schiro says it’s important when talking to someone who has lost someone to suicide to just be there for him or her.  It’s important, he believes, to acknowledge that even though you can’t directly relate, you are there to help ease the pain.

Schiro’s advice when talking to someone who has lost someone to suicide:

“I don’t know what you need, I really don’t. But I’m here to help you and I’ll listen to you,” Schiro said. “I don’t know what you’re experiencing but I do know that it’s awful. The best thing a person can do is just to do something. Bring them dinner unexpectedly, hire someone to take care of the yard, unspoken things that can really help somebody and let them know you care.”

“Anyone who is contemplating suicide doesn’t really want to die,” Schiro said. “They want to relieve the pain that they are going through.”

It surprised Schiro how prevalent suicide is among young people.

Although it’s hard to get down to the real reason of why suicide is higher in Arizona in comparison to other states, Schiro explains that it could be because of the easier access to firearms, which could explain the higher rates in other western states.

Nikki Krontz, the president of the Arizona Suicide Prevention Coalition, like Schiro, is on a mission to reduce suicide rates in Arizona.

“I think one the reasons suicide is such a big problem in Arizona is because a lot of people aren’t aware of it,” Krontz said. “Another reason is that Arizona is a transient state, which means a lot of families that come from a lot of places. Many don’t identify as Arizona as their own home state. In Arizona, we really like our blocked walls, we don’t really know our neighbors. And what that means is that Arizona is a lot more isolated and there isn’t many outlets in the community to get help.”

Krontz says when looking at other states with lower rates of suicide, there is a strong correlation between the money going into mental health services whereas Arizona doesn’t spend that same kind of money for citizens behavioral health the way other states do. The money in Arizona is much lower than those other states.

On November 1, 2014, CODAC Behavioral Health Services in Tucson started offering the first intensive outpatient program in Arizona specifically designed for people who are suicidal- the Dark through Suicide Treatment Program. CODAC claims that it will be the first program to use “somatosensory interventions” like meditation and experiential exercises to help those contemplating suicide. These types of exercises help to access often deep stored memories hidden in the right side of the brain.

Kristine Hall, the senior vice president of marketing, fundraising and planning at CODAC, says that suicide can be prevented.

“With treatment and support, people that can see that suicide is not the only option to end the pain they are experiencing,” Hall said. “There are so many people who want them to live and be happy and healthy, and will walk alongside them to get them there.”

Hall says for people who may be feeling depressed, anxious or hopeless, CODAC Behavioral Health Services – and many other organizations like CODAC – offer counseling, support, psychiatry and connections to other resources to help people cope with current life situations and lead happier lives.

The crisis hotline which is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), open 24 hours, 7 days a week.

Tania Mashkoory is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service offered by the School of Journalism at the University of Arizona. Reach her at trash@email.arizona.edu

 

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