Alabama's suicide rates higher than national average

Alabama suicide rates (Alabama Department of Public Health)

A renewed focus on mental health and suicide awareness comes after the death of Anthony Bourdain, just days after designer Kate Spade also took her own life.

Here at home, Alabama has shown a higher rate of suicide deaths than the national average, a pattern that's continued since 1990.

To put the issue in perspective, data from the Alabama Department of Public Health shows there were 788 suicides in Alabama in 2016. That same year, suicide claimed 245 more lives than homicides did in this state.

First Responders and counselors both work to reverse this pattern.

At the Walker County 911 center, Director Tim Thomas explains his team averages a call each month.

“We get them to the suicide prevention hotline, let them talk to them, our dispatchers stay on the line, listen, in case something is needed, law enforcement, EMS fire, so we can jump on the situation,” said Thomas.

Thomas explains his team is trained for mental illness and suicide prevention. He also leads debriefings after each suicide related call.

Sometimes those call come from loved ones.

“The family aspect, that’s where the big trauma’s at when a family comes in and finds one who, whether it be from an overdose or a gunshot wound or whatever, they’re the other victim in this that a lot of people don’t realize,” he said. “They’re in the trauma of seeing a loved one who’s taken their life.”

Alabama consistently shows a higher pattern of suicide than the national average, leaving hundreds of families in grief.

“There’s a lot of support groups for families,” explained Jennifer Reynolds, a licensed professional counselor supervisor at Birmingham Anxiety and Trauma Therapy.

“Everybody experiences grief and loss differently but it’s not your fault,” she said. “You did not make the decision for them to do it. That’s a decision the individual made on their own.”

Her advice to anyone watching this story is never to be afraid to ask for help.

“One thing I do like to talk to my clients about is we don’t want to make permanent decisions for temporary situations,” she said. “Because life ebbs and flows. Some days are great! Some days are not. So when you’re having bad days, that’s when you’re supposed to be looking to talk to somebody.”

The Alabama Department of Public Health says risk factors include: previous suicide attempt, talk of suicide, giving away prized possessions, depression, feeling hopeless, alcohol or drug abuse, recent attempt by friend or family member, mental illness and social isolation.

Protective factors include social support, religiosity or spirituality, marital status and reduced access to lethal means, according to ADPH.

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