Butler County on pace for record number of suicides this year

Warren County numbers about the same as previous years.

Mental health experts believe several stress factors are leading to a recent spike in suicides in Butler County.

Through July, the county recorded 42 known or suspected suicides, four more than all of 2020.

At the current rate, Butler will report 72 suicides this year, by far the most in recent history, according to coroner records.

The highest number of suicides this century was 52 in 2008, at the height of the Great Recession, the coroner’s office said.

Suicides in Warren County this year are on pace with recent years, according to the coroner’s office. The county has seen 13 suicides through May and had 29 all of last year.

Butler County Coroner Dr. Lisa K. Mannix said it’s “very sad” that the county finds itself heading to a record number of suicides. But there are numerous mental health resources available, she said.

“Together as a community, we can decrease the stigma of mental health and prevent the further loss of life,” she said.

Scott Rasmus, executive director of the Butler County Mental Health & Addiction Recovery Services Board, said two years after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, the virus remains a concern for residents and is accentuating mental illness.

Other stress factors, he said, include the return of masking due to COVID-19, talk of global warming and its impact, concerns about another possible recession and the expansion of monkey pox virus.

These factors are coming at a time when the mental health industry, like all businesses, is short-staffed, Rasmus said. That could lead to a delay in mental care services, he said.

“It’s a very stressful time for everyone,” he said.

He called the high number of suicides this year “very concerning” and it “sets off bells and whistles” that those in the mental health field need to do more to address the needs of that at-risk population.

Inflation, money issues and the war in Ukraine also are responsible for pushing stress to alarming levels, according to a poll conducted for the American Psychological Association.

Those surveyed said they’re emotionally stressed due to the rise in prices of everyday items due to inflation, supply chain issues, global uncertainty, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and potential retaliation from Russia.

“The number of people who say they’re significantly stressed about these most recent events is stunning relative to what we’ve seen since we began the survey in 2007,” Arthur C. Evans Jr., APA’s chief executive officer, said in a recent article. “Americans have been doing their best to persevere over these past two tumultuous years, but these data suggest that we’re now reaching unprecedented levels of stress that will challenge our ability to cope.”

Kathy Becker, who has spent her life helping the mentally ill and homeless, said she recently was diagnosed with COVID-19 and she laid in beds for days. She wondered if her energy level would return.

“You start to think, ‘Is this permanent?’” she said. “It was a horrible depression.”

Rhonda Benson, executive director of National Alliance on Mental Illness Butler County, also pointed toward COVID-19 and the isolation that followed as a major factor in suicide increases.

By now, Benson said, people were told the pandemic would be over and life would be back to normal.

But “we don’t see an end anytime soon,” she said. “It’s very difficult for people to adjust. They also have lost hope.”

Benson said when there’s one suicide, especially in a school, other students may attempt suicide. It’s that copycat mentality.

“The more you have, the more you will have,” she said.

Of the 263 suicides the last five years in Butler, 136, or 52%, were committed with a gun, according to the coroner’s office. Benson said it’s important for gun owners to protect their weapons from a loved one contemplating suicide.

“If they’re thinking of suicide, they may look for a gun,” she said.

Sometimes, Benson said, suicide is considered “a last ditch effort to avoid emotional pain. As a general rule, they don’t feel like they have an option. We need to ID a way to resolve that pain besides suicide.”

Last month, Ohioans experiencing a mental health crisis were able to start calling or texting a three-digit number that became the new national suicide prevention hotline for every state in the country.

The 988 hotline launched on July 16, but it won’t immediately replace the 24/7 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255.

“We’re confident in the system we’re building in Ohio,” said Lori Criss, director of the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. “The transition to 988 will not be overnight.”

Ohioans who are contemplating suicide, or experiencing another mental health or addiction crisis, can call, text, or chat the 988 number. Family members worried a loved one is experiencing one of those crises may also contact the number.

Criss said those experiencing a life-threatening emergency should call 911, but the 988 hotline is intended to alleviate some 911 calls.

The 988 number also hopes to connect a caller to someone in-state more effectively. In the last 12 months, 79,358 calls were made in Ohio to the national hotline, and the department estimated that the 988 line could get at least 179,000 calls and texts in the first year.

Those in the mental health field hope the 988 number can get a person the help they need faster and hopefully save lives.

When someone commits suicide, the loss rips through a family, a community, according to Becker. One death impacts so many, she said.

“We have lost a lot of valuable lives,” she said. “We all lose in the long run.”

Rasmus agreed: “You have to think of the loss of life. All the lost potential. It’s a sad loss.”


AREA SUICIDE RATES

Butler County

2017: 44

2018: 42

2019: 47

2020: 38

2021: 49

2022 through July: 42

Warren County

2017: 24

2018: 17

2019: 30

2020: 21

2021: 29

2022 through May: 13

SOURCES: Butler and Warren county coroner’s offices


HOW TO RECEIVE HELP

Call the Butler County Crisis Hotline & Heroin Hopeline at 844-4CRISIS or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988.


HOW BUTLER COUNTY SUICIDES WERE COMMITTED

Over the last five years, there have been 263 suicides. 204 men, 59 women, according to the coroner’s office. Guns (136) were the top means of suicides, followed by hanging (71) and the remaining (56) were done in a number of different ways.

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