In mid-January during a routine crime statistics update presented to The Woodlands Township Board of Directors, a startling number was questioned by township Director Ann Snyder.
Snyder wanted to know if reports she received in January that the number of suicides or attempted suicides in The Woodlands had more than tripled from 2016 to 2017 were true.
The report, Montgomery County sheriff’s Capt. Allison Allen said, was accurate: suicides or attempted suicides had increased dramatically in the township and she did not have an explanation.
According to statistics from the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, a total of 80 suicides or attempted suicides were reported in the township for the entirety of 2017, including 14 in both October and November of 2017 and six in December, 2017.
In all of 2016, the sheriff’s office only reported 25 total suicides or attempted suicides, Allen added.
In 2018, for the time period between Jan. 1 and June 30, a total of 59 suicides or attempted suicides have been reported to sheriff’s officials, according to township data. The six-month rate places The Woodlands on track for possibly 118 suicides or attempted suicides in 2018, which would be a third year with an increase.
During that January meeting, Allen told Snyder and other directors she was aware that on a nationwide level, law enforcement has seen more suicides in recent years.
That claim is backed up by statistics from a June, 2018, report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in which researchers found that suicide rates in nearly every state in the United State increased from 1999 to 2016. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death, but is one of three leading causes on the rise, according to the CDC.
“It is a problem. I don’t know what the answer is,” Allen said during the January meeting. “This problem (suicides) is prevalent in society.”
Gordy Bunch, chairman of the township Board of Directors, said the rise in suicides is troubling.
“I am horrified by the numbers and know every parent wants our children to know they are loved and nothing they have done or that is occurring in their lives is worth committing suicide over,” Bunch said in an email. “We all love our kids unconditionally even if they don’t realize it, we all do.”
Bunch also said he has known several people and relatives that have attempted or successfully committed suicide.
“It breaks my heart not knowing how to help, especially those that show no signs of depression or stress,” Bunch added. “I know everyone wants to help and we need more proactive tools to intervene.”
Local expert: “It is a bigger jump than we’d like to see…”
As part of a three-story series in The Villager, Dr. Christina Story — a clinical licensed professional counselor in The Woodlands — discussed why suicide is increasing and what can be done to help prevent the issue from worsening.
“Just because we live in The Woodlands doesn’t mean we are immune (to suicide),” Story said. “Mental health issues cut across all socioeconomic levels.”
Story said the three main groups she is aware of that are experiencing a rise in suicides and attempted suicides are those affected by the opioid crisis ravaging much of the United States, veterans with PTSD who have returned from war or combat zones and a combination of severely bullied youth and elderly people who may have terminal illness.
“It is a bigger jump than we’d like to see,” Story said.. “Suicide among teens and young adults is definitely increasing.”
As for why people are opting to die by suicide or attempt suicide, Story said isolation from friends, relatives or society is one major factor, but she noted that mental health issues or illnesses are also involved.
“It is the isolation that causes (suicidal) thoughts,” Story said. “The thought that nothing is going to make it better. It is usually people feeling depressed…people who do not have access to mental health care. It is very difficult to find providers, it can take a long time (to get treatment).”
Story said people should be aware of the common signs often exhibited by a person contemplating suicide, including carrying heavy guilt about something that does not warrant it, not being able to sleep well, unrealistic expectations of themselves at work or school, depression and heavy alcohol or illegal drug use, among other symptoms.
As for some of the major groups of society that are experiencing high rates of suicide or attempted suicide, Story said there are often reasons why it is a difficult issue to tackle. Two groups currently experiencing high levels of suicides are military veterans and youth, she added.
“(With veterans) I think a bigger part of it is a stigma of being a war hero and then having to say, ‘I need help,’” Story said of veterans. “That is a huge problem for so many (veterans). Suicide among teens and young adults is definitely increasing. It seems like the uptick (in suicides) kicks in at puberty. Bullying, and the anonymity of attacks, can cause a lot of emotional stress.”
One of the obstacles facing those considering suicide is seeking and then obtaining counseling or mental health care, Story said. The common stereotype is that suicide is “someone else’s problem,” she said.
And, Story said, the current suicide crisis facing the country will only be resolved if people realize suicide is a community-wide problem and that there needs to be what she described as “community buy-in” for solutions.
“One has to get past the stigma that ‘something is wrong with me,’” Story said.
Medical care providers — whether it be a school nurse, a family physician or other medical professional — can do a better job in helping screen for both mental health illness issues as well as suicidal thoughts, Story said.
“If ‘frontline’ medical workers would just to a quick risk assessment, that would help,” she said. “If a physician isn’t as rushed (with an exam) and they can chat (with a patient) a bit…just asking simple, basic questions can help identify a potential issue. The provider can then help (the patient) connect to resources.”
Story also emphasized the extreme importance of close relatives and friends in helping identify potential suicidal thoughts in people they are related to or know.
“When people feel like they don’t have anywhere to turn, that is when the problem worsens,” she said. “If you know someone that seems depressed, I suggest just asking the person if they are OK. You are then creating that prevention.”
Although suicides and attempted suicides are on the rise nationally, Story said that narrative can be changed with the help of everyone in the community.
“The important thing to note is that we as a community do not need to be affected by (suicide),” Story added. “It is 100 percent preventable.”