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When celebrity takes own life, spike in suicides follows

Cary Ashby • Jun 13, 2018 at 12:00 PM

It’s common for the nation to see a spike in suicides following the media coverage of celebrity’s suicides, a local mental health expert said.

Dr. Beth Williams, executive director of the Huron County Board of Mental Health and Addiction Services, said there is a lot of research indicating this is “a real phenomenon” called “suicide contagion.”

Within about three days, there were two celebrity suicides — celebrity chef, author and travel documentarian Anthony Bourdain and fashion designer Kate Spade. Time reported that calls to the the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255) rose by 25 percent after the high-profile suicides.

When comedian and actor Robin Williams died in 2014, there was a 10-percent spike in suicides that year, Williams said. Also, she said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported a 12-percent increase following the suicide of Marilyn Monroe.  

“It’s just a phenomenon that happens; these are valid statistics,” added Beth Williams, who said reporters could help by providing messages of resiliance and hope when reporting on celebrity suicides and also offer resources for those who may be at risk for suicide.

Phone numbers for those considering, or are at risk of, committing suicide can call:

• Local hotline at 800-826-1306

• National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255

Also, those people who are more comfortable texting can use a crisis text line at 741-741. 

“That’s anonymous. You can get a response from a trained person who can help,” Williams said.

If the trained person picks up on certain key words, he or she will call authorities to perform an “act of rescue,” she  added.

Local residents also are encouraged to call these treatment centers: Firelands Counseling and Recovery Services at 419-663-3737 or Family Life Counseling at 567-560-3584.

Local, state suicide statistics

In 2017, 10 people committed suicide in Huron County, which was up from six the previous year.

“It was a busy year in suicides for our county,” said Dr. Jeffrey Harwood, who has been the county coroner for 22 years. 

“A lot of them are domestic related,” he told the Reflector for an earlier story. “It’s a small number, so a few more cases makes a bigger impact, but if you average it out, in time it evens itself out. We average about six (suicides) a year. … I don’t think there’s a trend there. Ten instead of 6, that’s a 66-percent increase. But that’s just one year and doesn’t take much to skew a number like six. Next year there might be less.”

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention reported suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in Ohio and second for ages 15 to 34. The 2018 Ohio fact sheet is based the most recent 2016 data from the CDC.

In 2018, there were 1,707 deaths by suicide for a rate of 14.11 per 100,000 population, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

What can others do?

Williams was asked what people can do if they are concerned about a family member, loved one, friend or co-worker.

“Just be there for them (and) talk to them,” she said.

Williams recommended you “check in with” or call people who may considering suicide, take time to understand where they’re coming from and generally “open up the line of communication.”

“And often that’s not easy because they may not be receptive,” she said.

If you are unable to contact that person, Williams said you should immediately call the police or 9-1-1 and request an officer perform a wellness check.

The Huron County Board of Mental Health and Addiction Services is presenting a mental-health presentation called “Though Be Present” from 6 to 7 p.m. June 25 at the Norwalk High School Fisher-Titus Learning Center.

The presentation is geared for parents or adults who engage with youth regularly to provide knowledge and insights that make connecting with youth easier. According to the flyer, attendees will “understand the daily stressor and trauma our youth are facing,” recognize signs that a young person “may be struggling with a mental health issue,” learn to be mindful of their language and being “sensitive to reducing (the) stigma related to help-seeking.”

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