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Suicide rate remains at recession levels in Lake County

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Updated: August 14, 2013 2:37AM



Mortgage payments that were skipped for months. Commissions at work that never came through. Credit card payments that ran out of control.

These are among the red flags — some of them hidden — from families who have buried victims of suicide in Lake County since the recession took hold in 2008.

Members of the Suicide Prevention Task Force say that economic pressures have contributed to a Lake County suicide count that spiked upward in 2008 and has remained above pre-recession levels ever since.

According to numbers provided by the Lake County Coroner, there were 46 suicides in 2007. That figure jumped up to 67 in 2008 and peaked at 70 in 2011.

Ted Testa, director of behavioral services for the health department, said those suicides have predominantly featured victims beyond the at-risk categories of teens and young adults.

“We saw a sudden rise in suicides by middle-aged men, and previously they’ve been exempt from that,” Testa said. “We’re seeing a rise across the board, and it’s tough to tease out why that’s been happening — if it’s been the economic recession or deterioration in health, but we have seen a marked rise in suicides among men between the ages of about 30 to 45.”

Meredith Wood, chairperson the county’s Suicide Prevention Task Force, spoke in general terms about one suicide linked to economic factors that occurred near her North Shore community.

“We know of a family who had no idea that the bank had been talking about taking the house for over a year,” said Wood, a senior therapist with the Lake County Health Department. “(The family found out) right before, when there was talk of refinancing because of the rates being lower, and the husband had to share that: ‘I haven’t paid the mortgage in a year. They’re about to foreclose on the house.’

“And then it was crisis mode. ‘What are you talking about? We have a home in Florida, we have a home here.’ They had no idea,” added Wood, saying the situation has repeated itself in homes where “the head-of-household is not sharing with the rest of the family that they’re getting the letters from the lender, (or) that the bonus that the family counted on for the vacation didn’t come, but ‘we’re still taking the vacation,’ so the money’s pulled out of somewhere else.”

What’s been seen in Lake County has been reflected nationally. According to a 2010 report by the U.S. Centers of Disease Control, there were “substantial increases in suicide rates” in the previous decade for victims between the ages of 35 and 64. In U.S. men aged 50-54, for example, the rate went up 49.4 percent, from 20.6 to 30.7 per 100,000 in population.

In 2010 alone, 42 of the county’s 67 suicides featured victims between the ages of 31 and 60. While the coroner’s report didn’t break down the age brackets by gender, 54 of the total suicide victims that year were male.

In Lake County, male suicides have more than doubled the number of suicides by females for the past four years. Testa told the task force at its June 10 meeting that he feels “the economy is definitely a factor” for the general increase in numbers, and he pointed out that in 2012, the Lake County community with the highest number of suicides was Lake Forest, with seven reported cases.

Looking at the 2012 numbers, Lake County Coroner Dr. Thomas Rudd said “a lot of them have to do with loss of jobs (when) talking about adults.” Task force members also pointed out that suicides last year primarily featured married victims, with 27 having been married compared to 21 single victims, nine divorced individuals and five widowers.

“Due to the economic downturn, that protective factor of being married no longer exists,” Wood said. “That speaks to the desperation that families are feeling. For me, when we’re talking about Lake Forest and loss of jobs, there’s also the stigma and gender issues as well when it comes to mental health and who feels that they’re comfortable to seek out services when they feel depressed.”

For the task force, which meets the second Monday of each month at the Health Department’s Grand Avenue facility, the challenge is to not only create a safety net of programs but also expand them to include resources for financial counseling.

The group is currently crafting an updated resource guide that not only includes more than a half-dozen public counseling agencies but also information about foreclosure assistance from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“With ages 35 to 64, we’ve been talking about the increase and what prevention efforts could be added to programs and to assessment to capture that,” Wood said. “It’s important when gathering the resources for our guide to make sure we include information where individuals can get help with economic issues — which, we all know, when a crisis like that happens, someone can consider suicide who previously had not.”

Wood added that, as with all categories of suicide, the primary challenge is to break the silence that overwhelms individuals struggling with suicidal thoughts.

“I think reducing stigma is huge, and we have done so much of that,” Wood said. “I think some of the trends are good — even though the rates are going up, we’re having more intervention efforts. We’re reducing the stigma so that we can actually get someone help.”



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