MS SUICIDE: 3rd leading cause of death in ages 15-24

By HASKEL BURNS,

Three years ago, state officials conducted the 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, showing 15.1 percent of high school students in Mississippi had made a plan to attempt suicide within 12 months before the survey.

Numbers from the survey go on to show 17 percent of high school students seriously considered attempting suicide, with 12.7 percent attempting suicide once or twice. About 5.7 percent attempted suicide and had to be treated by a medical professional because of injury, poisoning or overdose – higher than the national average of 3.8 percent.

After the suicide earlier this week of a Pine Belt student – following suicides of students from schools including Presbyterian Christian High School, Oak Grove High School and Seminary High School in recent years – those numbers are all the more concerning.

Although the Mississippi State Department of Health’s website doesn’t show exact numbers for high school-age suicides, officials say suicide is the third-leading cause of death in Mississippi among the 15-24 age group.

“We know that there are challenging situations for children in this age range – things like completing school or securing employment, becoming financially independent,” said Molly Portera, Director of Suicide Prevention Outreach at the Mississippi Department of Mental Health. “And with social media, there’s the whole part about bullying that can happen, especially with the high school- and middle school-age children.

“Students who are teenagers, we’ve kind of lost coping mechanisms and empathy, and I think that plays a lot into bullying. We know the suicide rate increases as people get older. But with that (young) population, I think that life transitions of dealing with school, going to college or going into the work force … that if we don’t have the coping mechanisms or the support to deal with those issues, it could cause someone to think about suicide as an option.”

National and statewide statistics

According to numbers from The Jason Foundation at The Parent Resource Program, suicide is the nation’s second-leading cause of death for ages 10-24, and the nation’s second leading cause of death for college-age individuals and ages 12-18.

On average, there are more than 3,470 suicide attempts daily throughout the country by students in grades 9-12.

MSDH data shows a total of 251 Mississippians in the 15-24 age group committed suicide from 2012-2016. That includes 41 in 2012, 46 in 2013, 47 in 2014, 63 in 2015 and 54 in 2016.

Forrest County

Data from MSDH shows from 2012-16, a total of seven Forrest County residents in the 15-24 age range committed suicide. By year, those numbers are broken down to one suicide in 2012, two in 2013, none in 2014, two in 2015 and two in 2016.

Forrest County suicides accounted for 2.7 percent of the 251 suicides among that age group throughout the state from 2012-16.

Lamar County

According to MSDH, 11 Lamar County residents in the 15-24 age group committed suicide from 2012-16. That includes no suicides in 2012, one in 2013, four in 2014, two in 2015 and four in 2016.

Lamar County suicides accounted for 4.3 percent of the 251 suicides among that age group throughout the state from 2012-16.

Resources

Mississippi House Bill 263, which took effect July 1, requires all school district employees in the state to be trained in two hours of suicide prevention in the 2017-18 school year. The law, for which MDMH selected a professional development curriculum for suicide prevention training, also requires school districts to have a policy regarding suicide prevention and bullying within schools.

“As part of that – but even before that – we had training for staff members and students,” said Andy Schoggin, chief operating offer for the Petal School District. “We had used a program called Signs of Suicide – SOS – where we try and equip staff members to understand the struggles students may have, and how to work through those, and how to identify and get that information to the correct individual to where we can offer the students help.

“This year, all staff members – everyone from our cafeteria and child nutrition staff, transportation, maintenance – we’re all involved in a program we offer through the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention. And again, it’s just trying to equip our staff members with knowledge and resources to connect with students who may be struggling.”

Schoggin said the training has been a big help to the school district, as it opens the door to conversation about the subject.

“We’re more actively aware,” he said. “I think our staff members are more aware of things that our students may be struggling with.

“Now I feel like they have means of reporting and getting that information to the right individuals who can offer some help – some counseling to connect them with those resources they need.”

In addition, each of Mississippi’s 82 counties is supported by a Community Mental Health Center, which are equipped with Mobile Crisis Response Teams. Each response team is available 24/7 and features master’s level therapists, peer support specialists and community support specialists.

For the Forrest and Lamar County areas, the Pine Belt Mental Health Resources’ Mobile Crisis Team is available at (888) 330-7772.

“If somebody is in a crisis, the Mobile Crisis Response Team can respond and do an assessment, and see what kind of next steps might need to happen,” Portera said. “So maybe that means the person gets in to see a therapist the next day, or it might mean that the person gets hospital treatment, depending on the situation.”

There’s also the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which is available 24/7 at (800) 273-8255.

“It’s actually routed by area code, so if you’re calling from 601, 662, 228 area codes, it’s answered in Mississippi,” Portera said. “So people here at the Department of Mental Health answer the Lifeline and can provide resources to people – counseling over the phone – and then follow-up resources if needed.”

The Mississippi Department of Mental Health also offers a helpline at (877) 210-8513. Representatives are available for information and referrals for alcohol and drug treatment services, mental health services for children and adults, and information about helping a person with intellectual or developmental disabilities.

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