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June 5, 2017: Helpline Representative Discusses Rising Suicide Rate, ‘13 Reasons Why’



Helpline representative discusses rising suicide rate, ‘13 Reasons Why’

Holly Nelms • Updated Jun 5, 2017 at 9:23 AM

KINGSPORT — In 2015, 1,065 people died by committing suicide in Tennessee.


That number, published in the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network’s latest report, is higher than in 2014, when 945 suicide deaths were recorded.


Lydia Blackwell, volunteer coordinator and community relations specialist for Contact 211, said this growing problem can be traced to a number of factors, including excessive social media usage, lack of coping skills and cyberbullying, especially for teens.  “It used to be you got bullied until 3 or 4 p.m. and went home and you had a reprieve,” Blackwell said. “Now it’s 24/7 bullying, and there are so many ways it can get to you.”


Contact 211 is a telephone helpline ministry serving eight counties in Northeast Tennessee. Blackwell said the organization received 1,258 mental health-related calls last year, a number of which were from depressed or anxious individuals who might have thought about suicide but do not have immediate plans to go through with it.


“We get more of people who aren’t to that point yet,” Blackwell said. “They thought about it in the past, and maybe they’re kind of starting to think about it again, but they don’t have a plan in place to go forth with it or anything like that. They’re just reaching out to see if they can get some help.”  In Sullivan County, 28 people committed suicide in 2015, according to the TSPN report. That translates to a rate of 17.9 suicides per 100,000 people, which is higher than the state rate of 15.6 per 100,000.


TSPN researchers uncovered some unexpected findings about suicide rates among different age groups.  “Tennesseans aged 45-64 are over three times more likely to die by suicide than those aged 10-19 —typically the age group that attracts most of the attention when it comes to suicide prevention efforts,” the report reads.


Despite the fact that children and teens are not the most likely to commit suicide in the state, considerable research is still being done on this group, given the many challenges and transitions they face in grade school and college.  “Even if they live in the dorm, they’re working, they’re going to school and they still feel like they’re starting out behind,” Blackwell said. “So in the college age group, I think that has a huge impact on why their anxiety and depression rates are going up and even suicide attempts are going up.”


On a national scale, suicide has garnered more attention in recent months following the release of the Netflix original series “13 Reasons Why.” The fictional series, based on the young adult novel by Jay Asher, follows high school student Hannah Baker and depicts the 13 reasons she decided to commit suicide.  Though many teens and young adults across the country have praised the show, others, including Blackwell, believe it is not suitable for young people to watch on their own.


“I don’t think kids should be watching it, but I think kids are going to watch it anyway,” Blackwell said. “So I think that since they’re going to watch it anyway, you should sit down with your child and have a conversation about it, and if they want to watch it, watch it with them so that you’re able to be there for them and help them through any of the triggers that go on in it.”  Blackwell added that she does not believe the show glorifies suicide, but rather makes it seem like an unappealing option.  “I think that in showing the suicide, the intent there was to make it scary to kids,” she said. “It was a very, very graphic portrayal of what a suicide would look like, and it’s not a pretty picture. It’s not.”


To safeguard their children from suicidal thoughts or behaviors, Blackwell said parents should teach coping skills, have open fields of communication and monitor social media use.  “I know you want to respect their privacy, but you’re also trying to protect your kid,” Blackwell said. “It’s a cruel world that we live in."


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