Suicide rates rising, Davidson taking action
by Staff Writer
Suicide has always been a difficult topic of discussion, but after recent rise of suicide deaths in Davidson, the town has begun to push for more open conversations in hopes of reversing the unfortunate trend.
The stigma placed on suicides can often cause a damaging breakdown in communication. So, Davidson is forming a committee to shed light on suicide and mental health issues.
“Right now the steering committee will be focused on suicide,” says public information officer Christina Shaul. “But our overarching goal is to alleviate the stigma of mental health.”
The reason for the town’s push to bring the suicide discussion to the forefront is the unusually high and growing number of attempts and suicides that have occurred in the close-knit community.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, there were 12 suicides per 100,000 people in 2009. In Davidson, there have been four suicide deaths in 2012, not including one resident who died by suicide outside of the town. With a population of approximately 10,000, that puts Davidson over three times the national average.
“What we generally find in these cases are individuals in a depressed state,” Davidson police detective Steve Ingram said. “Some are mental, some are substance abuse-related and those are generally the two that we see the most.”
However, Ingram noted that when investigating a possible suicide, it’s hard to find meaning from some of these cases. What they look for is what is referred to as a “significant emotional event” that may have triggered a person to consider suicide.
In 2010, Davidson had four suicide attempts and one death. Those numbers have grown with five attempts and two suicide deaths in 2011, and six attempts already this year.
“I don’t necessarily know that it has anything to do with Davidson per se,” Ingram said. “Charlotte has suicides all the time, but they are a bigger stage, while we are a smaller stage and it just may get a little bit more attention.”
Davidson isn’t the only Lake Norman town dealing with growing suicide rates. Huntersville also keeps tabs on the total number of suicide attempts, threats and deaths.
That number grew from 68 in 2010 to 73 last year. In 2012, it’s already at 52.
Betsy Shores, public information officer with the Cornelius Police Department, said they’ve counted 13 suicide deaths since Jan. 1, 2007 through Sept. 16 of this year.
Cornelius Detective Lt. Jennifer Thompson has responded to several suicide calls.
“Whether you know what happened before you get there or once you arrive on the scene, it’s a sad situation,” she said. “Especially when the family is there.”
Police usually rely on chaplains to console the family involved, Thompson said, but when one isn’t available, the officer must rely on past experiences.
“They’ve just lost a loved one and sometimes they had no idea this was coming,” she continued. “That’s when you rely on your experience. Maybe you’ve been on these calls before or maybe you’ve had personal experience.”
Last week was National Suicide Prevention Week, prompting Davidson Mayor John Woods to address the topic.
Woods announced at the Sept. 11 town board meeting that the town would create a steering committee to address suicide and mental health issues. The committee will be led by Commissioner Jim Fuller and includes members from the faith and mental health communities and from the school systems. Emily Buckner and Jeremy Cramarossa, two students from Hough High, are also part of the steering committee. The committee will hold its first meeting Friday Sept. 21, at 3pm.
“People seem to be a little more accustomed to a loss. It’s like students have gotten used to the fact that we will lose a friend at one point in the year,” Cramarossa said.
“One thing I believe that the steering committee will do is send out the communities’ support to others in need; to show that the town you live in cares about your mental health.”
“It’s a very difficult thing, especially when it involves children,” Ingram said.
“I know when we look at Twitter and Facebook, the kids use that as their sound stage. We’ll go out there and examine the contexts of the messages being said. If we need to interview those kids, we will. Just to see if there is any rhyme or reason why it has happened. There is never a good reason, but it does help to a degree, if we can pinpoint why something may have happened.”
While social media can be used as a tool for police officers to gather information, it can also be used as a weapon for bullies to attack their peers. Earlier in the year, a Hough High student took her life after allegedly being cyber-bullied.
“I like the fact that people are opening up about it and that it isn’t taboo any longer,” Ingram said.
“People are wanting to speak about it, get it out there in the open, and make a conscious effort to educate others. I don’t know if we could have prevented any of these instances, but I like the direction the town is choosing to take. If there was ever a need to get aggressive with something, this is one of those things. That tragedy reaches out and darkens a community.”