According to the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network, suicide is the leading cause of violent deaths not only in Tennessee but throughout the United States and the rest of the world. It’s also the second-leading cause of death among young people ages 15-24 statewide and nationally.
Tennessee Department of Health data points to a rise in suicides from 2016 to 2017. In 2017, there were 1,163 recorded suicides in Tennessee — up from 1,110 the previous year. While numbers fell in some surrounding counties, suicide numbers increased in Washington County from 20 to 24 in 2016 and 2017.
TSPN Northeast Tennessee Regional Director Molly Colley said suicide is a “complex” and multifaceted public health issue, which is usually traced to unrecognized and poorly treated mental illness, especially among teens and young adults.
“I’m not really sure that it is any one thing we can pin it down to, but what we know is that the trend is showing up in those (young) ages, and it’s been a pretty big increase in the last 50 years,” Colley said, citing a 200% increase in the 15-24 age range.
To help bring awareness to suicide in the state, TSPN will be hosting its 2019 Suicide Prevention Memorial and Awareness Walk on Sunday from 2-4 p.m. at East Tennessee State University. The walk will be held near the Center for Physical Activity and campus soccer fields. The event, which will feature informational booths from local organizations and businesses, is free and open to the public.
With September being Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, Colley said it's important not only to memorialize those who have died by suicide but emphasize the importance of talking about suicide openly to prevent more deaths.
“There is a lot of stigma around this idea that talking about suicide can plant the idea in somebody’s head, and what we know from research is that that’s absolutely not the case,” she said. “In fact, talking about it, being open and being a listening ear to somebody is one of the best things you can do, so don’t be afraid to ask someone if they are thinking about killing themselves or if they’re thinking about suicide. Just be that open ear for them.”
Colley encouraged those thinking about suicide to call the Tennessee crisis hotline at 855-CRISIS-1 (855-274-7471) or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).