Suicide now leading cause of death in U.S.

Suicide is now the leading cause of death in the United States, leading to legislation that could help address the issue here in Oklahoma. 

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), suicide is the third leading cause of death for youth between the ages of 10 and 24, resulting in approximately 4,600 lives lost each year.

A recent study by the American Journal of Public Health, revealed that suicide now takes more American lives than motor vehicle crashes, which was the leading cause of death by injury between 2000 and 2008.

Oklahoma’s death rate for suicide exceeds that of the United States.

“Deaths due to suicide are increasing in Oklahoma, jumping from 567 in 2009 to 618 in 2010,” said Jeffrey Dismukes, Communications Director for the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. “Oklahoma ranks 13th nationally in terms of suicide rate (per 100,000 people). (American Association of Suicidology, Oct. 2012).

Oklahoma State Rep. Kay Floyd, (D-District 88) has introduced House Bill 1623, which will provide school-wide training that focuses on suicide prevention and early intervention for school staff and students. The bill recently passed through the House Common Education Committee.

“Our children face so many pressures today,” said Floyd. “HB 1623 will help Oklahoma’s school children arm themselves against peer pressure, bullying, and other challenges that are related to suicide.” 

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention cites risk factors for suicide among the young include suicidal thoughts, psychiatric disorders, drug and/or alcohol abuse and previous suicide attempts, with the risk increased if there is situational stress and access to firearms.

“My bill provides for counseling, referrals, training, medical care and other assistance for vulnerable youth in our state so that we can hopefully reverse this trend that has such an impact on our communities overall,” Floyd said. 

Floyd’s legislation provides for school wide presentations to staff, parents, and students using early intervention techniques and examples and testimony from those who have dealt directly with student suicide and bullying.

“Adults should protect our children and give them the tools and resources necessary to be healthy and live their lives to the fullest,” said Floyd. “This training will not only help individuals, but will also increase community awareness so our schools can be one step closer to becoming the safe havens they should be for our kids.”
A group in Oklahoma City has long addressed suicide prevention, and is applauding Rep. Floyd’s efforts.
Serving Oklahoma since 1971, HeartLine, Inc. provides suicide prevention outreach programs, compassionate listening, referral services, and crisis intervention services. 

“We believe that education is key to prevention,” said Kelly Nutter, Executive Director HeartLine, Inc. 

“Real, widespread change in Oklahoma can only happen at a policy level, and it is very encouraging that our legislators are realizing the importance of this life-saving suicide prevention education.  

“Dedicating classroom time toward a comprehensive, systematic method to prevent the loss of life has been effective in identifying those students who are at-risk and getting them connected to the help they need,” said Nutter. “HeartLine has been providing classroom-based suicide prevention education for 16 years and will continue to be a part of these efforts.”

HeartLine’s suicide prevention and outreach initiative, the Healthy Education for Life Program (HELP) provides free, interactive training to increase awareness and empower students to prevent bullying and suicide among peers.  

“HELP is an interactive presentation for middle and high school students that teaches young people about the warning signs of depression and suicide and how to get help.” said Nutter. “Following the presentation, 25 percent of students self-identify as being at-risk for depression or suicide and receive mental health follow-up from the school counselor.” 

The HELP program, listed on the Best Practices Registry by the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, is free to any interested school, youth program or group. 

National surveys, including the Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide, state that in any given year, approximately 20 percent of high school students admit to thinking about suicide and 8.5 percent acknowledge actually making an attempt.

“We answered 6,751 calls on the Lifeline in 2012,” said Nutter. “This is up considerably from 2011, as we answered 5,406 calls that year.”

Serving over 2.3 million people in Oklahoma, HeartLIne, Inc. call specialists are available 24/7 answering their various helplines, which including two national suicide prevention lines, 1-800-SUICIDE and 1-800-273-TALK.

NOTE: Shelden is a staff writer for The City Sentinel, a weekly newspaper in Oklahoma City where this report is featured in the March 28, 2013 edition.