By James Mayse ©The Messenger-Inquirer
The number of deaths by suicide declined in Owensboro and Daviess County this year, making it the second year in a row that local suicide numbers have fallen.
Daviess County Coroner Jeff Jones said between Jan. 1 and Dec. 30, there were 12 deaths by suicide in the county. In 2012, there were 18 suicides, and there were 21 suicides in Owensboro and Daviess County in 2011.
While it’s hard to determine why suicide rates fluctuate from year to year, Jeremy Keiffer, a member of the Owensboro Regional Suicide Prevention Coalition, said one reason may be that people are becoming more willing to discuss suicide, which has traditionally been a taboo topic.
“Everyone has someone who has thought about (suicide) or completed it,” Keiffer said. “Everyone has their story. Now, people are getting more comfortable at discussing it. (Just) a year or two ago, no one would discuss it, and no one (considering suicide) had any pathways they could see” to find help, Keiffer said.
People considering suicide do so for many reasons, Jones said.
“The sad thing is there is no one particular thing you can put your finger on and say, ‘This is the contributing factor’ ” that causes a person to commit suicide, Jones said. “There are so many reasons.”
Problems such as substance abuse or mental health issues can combine with external problems, such as a divorce or financial worries, to increase the risk of suicide, Jones said.
Jones, who is a member of the suicide prevention coalition, said the group holds public events “to try to provide information as to resources, to assist people through whatever struggles they’re going through in their lives.”
“I would love to say it’s because of the work of the coalition” that the number of suicides declined this year, Jones said. “But I know it’s not necessarily the case. We still had 12 suicides this year, and that’s 12 too many.”
Keiffer, who also works at RiverValley Behavioral Health’s children’s hospital, said the local suicide prevention coalition offers regular training for the public on how to identify and talk to a person who may be considering suicide.
Often, people are reluctant to bring up the topic of suicide with a potentially suicidal person because they believe, falsely, they will plant the idea of suicide in the person’s head, Keiffer said.
“That idea is generally already there,” Keiffer said. A person who hints at having suicidal thoughts wants to be able to talk about those thoughts with someone.
“The worst thing you can do is nothing — or brush it off,” Keiffer said.
Giving a person a chance to talk about their suicidal feelings is an important step in leading the person to help.
“That’s the biggest thing, giving the (person) the sense that their feelings and opinions matter,” Keiffer said.
An equally damaging myth is that a person who talks about suicide is unlikely to kill him or herself, Keiffer said. The coalition’s goal is to train people on how to question a suspected suicidal person about their thoughts, how to persuade the person to not harm himself or herself and how to refer a suicidal person to help.
“What we want is to get people comfortable so they can talk about it,” Keiffer said.
The coalition also offers a support group for family and friends of a person who commits suicide; family members of a person who commits suicide also face an increased risk of suicide, Keiffer said.
The coalition will hold an open “question, persuade and refer” suicide prevention training session at 6 p.m. Jan. 7 at the Logsdon Community Center, 2400 Friendship Place in Owensboro. The group will hold the sessions throughout the year on the first Tuesday of each month.
“If we don’t want to talk about it, there’s no way we can address it,” Keiffer said.
James Mayse, 691-7303, [email protected]