Safe Communities Coalition talks suicide prevention

Published 12:05 pm Friday, February 23, 2018

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for people under the age of 25 in Kentucky. But the number of suicides is also underreported, according to Tammy Barrett.

Barrett, a suicide prevention coordinator for the state, briefed members of the Safe Communities of Central Kentucky Coalition on the problem of suicide and issues with how suicide statistics are tracked during a coalition meeting Thursday.

Barrett said suicide by firearm is all too common among females aged 10-17.

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“That, to me, in and of itself is very scary. It says we’re doing something very wrong,” she said. “We always want Kentucky to rank, but we don’t want it to rank with this kind of stuff.”

Barrett, who is based in Frankfort, said there is a group of 15 regional prevention centers across the state and she has gotten other community partners involved.

“My goal is to prevent suicide across the state of Kentucky,” she said.

Barrett said she believes suicides are underreported, because “so many deaths are not covered as suicide but are suicide.”

She explained that if someone attempts suicide, doesn’t die from it immediately, but dies later at the hospital, it’s not listed as death by suicide.

Barrett said she has reviewed 16 suicides in the last two weeks; 14 of those involved firearms.

The youngest suicide she’s ever dealt with has been someone 9 years old.

The number of suicides is continuing to rise, she said.

“Our concern — not only is it moving up, but the number would be so much higher if it were reported right. It is to the coroner’s discretion on how to mark that.”

Coroners will tell her they didn’t mark it that way because the person didn’t leave a note, because they fear it will “devastate the family,” because the family wouldn’t receive money from insurance and even because “the church would look down on them.”

“There’s a multitude of reasons and the intentions are good at the moment, but what happens is, it does not give us the tools we need to prevent the next one,” Barrett said.

Additionally, suicide attempts are reported separately from deaths by suicide. Barrett said she is in the process of analyzing data concerning that.

One difficulty is lifting the stigma surrounding mental health and substance abuse, she said.

“One of my primary goals is to try to lift that stigma with mental health. Mental health and substance abuse — in Kentucky, the stigma is horrible,” she said. “People will go get treatment for diabetes, or if they break a leg, they’ll get medical treatment, but if it’s a mental health issue, they don’t want to talk about it.”

She shared with the committee that there are a variety of resources available to help study and prevent suicides, such as getting trained in “Question, Persuade, Refer” (QPR).

“QPR makes (people) gatekeepers to recognize the signs and symptoms of suicide,” she said.

She also shared about a group called “Sources of Strength” that has been introduced in some schools across the state.

“That’s had significant results” in reducing bullying and other issues in schools, she said.

She explained that the program took leaders from various “groups” that have developed within the schools, bringing them together with staff members to impact the other students. Sources of Strength is aimed at giving students tools to deal with the difficulties they might face in life.

Barrett said it had also served to help those teens from different groups see that they “aren’t so different.”