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Tennessee’s suicide rate 'rose sharply in 2016'

Holly Viers • Jan 14, 2018 at 12:30 PM

KINGSPORT — New data reveals that Tennessee’s suicide rate reached record-breaking heights in 2016, leaving many people wondering why.

The Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network reports that the new figures are the highest in the state in more than 35 years of recordkeeping, and the rate remains above the national average.

“Going forward, we have our work cut out for us,” said Scott Ridgway, TSPN’s executive director. “Tennessee’s suicide rate and raw number of deaths rose sharply in 2016, and recent statistics indicate a growing problem with suicide among adolescents and preteens.”

The numbers

The report, released by the TSPN, cites data from the Tennessee Department of Health’s Office of Health Statistics.

According to the data, there were 1,110 recorded suicides in Tennessee in 2016, up from 1,065 the previous. This represents a 4 percent increase.

In Sullivan County, 33 suicides were recorded in 2016, up from 28 the previous year. Conversely, the suicide rate in Hawkins County dropped slightly from 10 deaths in 2015 to eight in 2016.

Possible explanations

Kristy Tipton, director of crisis services for Frontier Health, said the rising suicide rate can be attributed to a number of factors, including mood changes and even the opioid epidemic. Because of this, she said, it’s difficult to pinpoint one specific cause.

Tipton added that one of the biggest factors might be the rising population, which could logically lead to a higher suicide rate.

“There’s been a steady rate of increase the last few years,” Tipton said. “The population has increased, obviously, and there are lots of things that it could be attributed to that we provide treatment for.”

Looking specifically at teenagers and young adults, some local and national experts have raised concerns about how suicide is portrayed in pop culture, including on shows like Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why.” Tipton, however, has a different view.

“From a teenager standpoint, I really think that show has put out some awareness,” Tipton said. “So people that didn’t know how to get help before have reached out for help, but I don’t know that it’s increased the suicide rate.”

What can be done?

Tipton said more treatment options should be made available throughout the state for people who are having suicidal thoughts. And TSPN’s Ridgway said, “If we’re really going to address the issue of suicide in Tennessee, we’ll need additional funding devoted to suicide prevention efforts.”

Tipton said Frontier Health offers a number of treatment options in this area, including outpatient treatment, residential treatment, crisis intervention and an inpatient facility.

“There are a whole host of treatment options that are available,” Tipton said, “and I think just increasing awareness of mental illness and increasing awareness of what the treatment options are will help.”

If you are having suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255.

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