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Galax ranks fifth-highest in Virginia for those taking their own lives. Experts blame the area’s high numbers on a poor economy, lack of acceptance for some social groups and limited mental health services.
After a study of recent suicide rates in Virginia turned up high numbers, experts are scrambling for answers to why so many are resorting to such extreme measures.
The study revealed a record high in suicide rates for the state in 2011, the highest in 13 years, according to the state’s chief medical examiner.
In 2011, there were 1,067 suicides in the state, accounting for 12.6 suicides per 100,000 residents.
When breaking the results down into localities, rates were highest in the Southwestern and Western parts of Virginia. Galax ranks fifth on the list with 71.6 per 100,000 residents, followed by Patrick County (9th), Carroll County (13th) and Floyd County (17th).
Anna Chase, director of youth and family services at Mount Rogers Mental Health, told The Gazette that last year, approximately 246 youths received assistance from emergency medical services, and 113 of that number were hospitalized.
“This is a pretty high rate, which concerns us quite a bit,” she said.
Experts across the nation are weighing in on the factors driving this alarming trend.
A national study of more than 8,500 teens across the country indicated that gay and lesbian youth in rural areas are at a greater risk for suicide than in urban areas, where support groups are more established, according to a news release.
Another study documented by the Family Acceptance Project revealed that highly rejected youth are eight times more likely to attempt suicide, six times as likely to report high levels of depression and three times more likely to use illegal drugs and have an increased risk for promiscuity and STDs compared to their peers.
Bullying has also played a significant part in developing these statistics, the study found.
Experts in Virginia believe that a poor economy and a lack of mental health services may also be primary causes. Though Galax ranks high on the list, Chase said that Mount Rogers had not seen a high increase of suicides overall in this area. “That’s a good thing, because we are hopefully effective for finding alternatives to that solution,” she said.
She noted that state statistics include those who are not patients at Mount Rogers facilities.
While she offered no hypothetical cause to explain the rising numbers, Chase said that Mount Rogers has several programs that will hopefully knock the rates down several notches.
“We just got approved to provide a positive alternative to hospitalization. When somebody presents a mental health crisis, and it is not yet at the point where we have to hospitalize, we can work with them hands-on for several hours — up to 20 — and try to take them out of that immediate environment,” she said. “Hospitalization is a traumatic experience for any of us, and this gives them an alternative to that.”
Mount Rogers also has a service for cases that are not as urgent, where callers who can make it through the night are cleared for an appointment with one of their clinicians first thing the next morning.
Though it doesn’t address the reasons for suicide specific to our region, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) says there are many individuals out there who are at risk.
People of all races and ethnicities are at risk for suicide, according to NAMI. Women typically record a higher number of attempts, but studies have shown that men are four times more likely to die from a suicide attempt.
Older age is associated with a higher risk, with individuals age 65 or older at the greatest risk for death by suicide.
The list further states that more than 90 percent of people who commit suicide have been diagnosed with a mental illness. Illnesses more commonly associated with suicide include depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, personality disorders, anxiety disorders and eating disorders.
Other risks for suicide include:
• chronic medical illness
• a family history of suicides
• a traumatic history
• social isolation
• substance abuse
• access to a firearm (the most popular method for suicide).
According to statistics, a person who has attempted suicide previously is at an even higher risk for future attempts.
Prevention methods include psychiatric treatment, abstaining from drugs and alcohol, involvement in community or religious organizations, and prescribed antidepressant medication.
If someone believes that a loved one may be experiencing suicidal feelings, they should immediately encourage them to seek treatment.
Out of the Darkness
Registration has begun for the Galax Out of the Darkness walk this October.
Members of the community are encouraged to sign up early and start forming their teams.
The Out of the Darkness walk is being held to raise awareness for suicide prevention and outreach for the families who have lost loved ones to suicide, said event chair Suzanne Whittaker.
This is the first year that the walk has been organized for Galax and surrounding areas, according to Whittaker.
Donations are also being accepted from individuals, organizations, businesses and corporations. The goal this year is to collect $10,000 for the cause.
In addition to the walk, the event will feature raffles, activities for kids, special guests and a concert beginning at 2 p.m.
The walk will be held at Felts Park in Galax on Oct. 12, starting at noon. Registration cutoff is Oct. 11. Check in time begins at 10 a.m.
For more information, contact Whittaker at (540) 818-0680 or e-mail her at email@example.com.
• To learn more about services offered by Mount Rogers Mental Health, call 1-276-223-3200. The agency has no suicide prevention hotline, but those at immediate risk should call their local police or sheriff’s department, which will arrange for a welfare check by emergency medical services.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Call toll-free: 1-800-273-TALK
Virginia Department of Health