Numbers from the 2015 Death Review Team show Delaware County had higher than average suicide deaths in recent years. The 77 suicide deaths in 2015 and 92 in 2014 mark this highest since 2009 (78). All figures are above the national average of 69.
The 45-64 year-old demographic accounted for 42 percent of suicides with males making up the majority at 68 percent. The numbers were based on 2007-2015 death reviews.
The Delaware County Suicide Prevention Awareness Task Force (DCSPATF) presented the report. DCSPATF is in the business of prevention, intervention, and post-intervention program implementation, facilitation, and promotion.
It also aims to lessen the stigma associated with suicide and suicide loss. The stigma is present, especially among men who do not seek mental help. Families of victims, sometimes for religious or insurance purposes, ask the coroner or medical examiner for the death to be classified as “accidental.”
Jim Elliot, chairman of DCSPATF, says the stigma is a national issue and another 10-15 percent can be added to the total suicide numbers since the death may not be classified as such.
The media is also responsible for perpetuating the stigma by the wording of suicide deaths.
Elliot does not use the term “commit suicide.”
“People only die by suicide or complete a suicide,” he believes.
The word “commit” infers a sense of guilt or creates a sense there is something faulty with the person or family that they allowed it to happen, he explained.
“Most people, at the moment they do it…that’s not what their intention was,” added Elliot. “There are also people who may plot it for years. If they really want to do it they ultimately will but the majority does not want to do that.”
According to DCSPATF’s data, if a person completes suicide, generally they visited their doctor within a week.
“There are things physicians have not picked up,” said Elliot. “Suicide is preventable; 95 percent of the people who complete or die by suicide really aren’t intending to end their physical life, but they get to a certain point where they are just overwhelmed emotionally by things such as loss of job or they get to a crisis point and don’t know what to do. If there is no one that ever hears them, or talks to them, they will complete a suicide.”
According to Kevin Caputo, M.D., chairman of Psychiatry and Vice President for Behavioral Health for Crozer-Keystone Health System, the patients they treat have suicidal ideations or have attempted suicide. Caputo noted a “bulk” of them have clinical depression, clinical psychosis or a substance abuse issue which is altering the way they feel.
Elliot claims from DCSPATF’s reports that the majority of men turn to firearms while women complete the act by suffocation or poisoning. Many times, the cause, especially among white males, is due to isolation (lack of connections to family, friends, or some type of organization like church). August and October had the highest occurrences. Elliot believes the spike in August is caused by those completing suicide when family is away on vacation and they are left behind.
In Delaware County, suicide on the many train tracks isn’t “frequent,” according to Elliot, but he says SEPTA has only recently classified them as suicides instead of accidents.
“There were a number (of people) who walked in front of the train and it was reported as an accident and now they are separating that,” said Elliot.
A spokesperson for SEPTA said when there is a trespasser fatality, the county medical examiner determines the cause and manor of death – whether it is a suicide, accident, or unknown if there isn’t enough information to make a ruling. It is then included in SEPTA’s reports as it has been their “practice for some time.”
DCSPATF and Crozer-Keystone both sees the effects the opioid epidemic has on suicide rates.
“Addiction changes one’s thinking,” explained Caputo. “They will either feel high (during active use), or low (when it wears off) and feel profoundly depressed. When folks use opiates there is a false lull, but then typically there is a crashing period. Addiction and substance abuse increase the risk of suicide in the sense that there are biological changes in the brain that make people feel more depressed and judgment is impaired.”
DCSPATF, an all-volunteer group, was established in 2002 by individuals from the county who had lost someone close to suicide and who felt that more should be done to spare others this tragedy and the stigma that accompanies it. In 2003 it was adopted by the Delaware County Medical Society, which had aided it since its inception.