Originally Published: January 12, 2016 6:02 a.m.
Suicide in Yavapai County is a painful reality; statistics indicate youths, seniors and veterans here take their lives at alarming rates that are higher than many other counties in the state and across the nation.
Community and agency leaders wrestle with that question every day. And they have stepped up efforts to reach out to vulnerable populations so they do not succumb to their despair and isolation.
In 2015, Yavapai County Medical Examiner's Office documented 72 suicides. Of those, 44 were age 50 or older; eight were local VA patients. The year before, the county had 78 suicides, 49 of them were over 50.
The state Department of Health Services' 2013 statistics - the most current - indicate that Yavapai County has a history of suicide rates that are among the highest in the state.
In 2013, the suicide rate was 29.1 per 100,000 population, versus 17 statewide. For those 65 and older, the rate was 23.2 per 100,000 population; in 2009 that rate was even higher, 50.4 per 100,000.
For veterans, the Suicide Data report from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs in 2012 indicated some 22 veterans kill themselves every day.
On both a national and local level, VA officials have targeted suicide as a key mental health issue. Veteran advocates say one such death is too many.
"We're always looking for new ways to help each other," said Mary Dillinger, local VA public affairs officer.
At the local VA, Suicide Prevention Coordinator Jo Anne Carr oversees a three-member team: two licensed clinical social workers and a suicide prevention case manager.
Beyond tracking high-risk patients and individual counseling, the team offers a range of educational programs: Stand Down events for homeless veterans, weekly training and orientation for domiciliary patients; training for VA employees and local law enforcement; distribution of gun locks and veteran crisis hotline information.
Veterans and their families are invited to at any time contact the local VA Mental Health Clinic at 928-445-4860, ext. 7500 or ext. 6071, to request services, and the VA has a mental health crisis walk-in clinic from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays, with the VA emergency room open 24/7. The VA veteran crisis hotline is 800-273-8255.
The Western Yavapai County Suicide Prevention Coalition has emerged as a local force in fighting against rising suicide rates, including in their efforts the senior citizen demographic that has seen rising rates in recent years.
"We envision a state where suicide is a rare event, where people are nurtured and supported, and where individuals and families are aware of the risk factors for suicide and actively seek help from accessible, effective community resources," the coalition's mission statement reads.
In the coalition's materials, there are several crisis hotlines listed, including the clinic hotline at 928-445-5211; the state Department of Health Yavapai County Crisis hotline at 877-756-4090 and the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255).
In Prescott, there are also resources for those who have lost a loved one to suicide: Survivors of Suicide and the Path to Hope Circle. For more information on those groups, contact Terri Roza, manager of the Senior Peer Prevention program at the West Yavapai Guidance Clinic at 928-445-5211, ext. 2672.
"People don't think (suicide) touches anyone here, but it does touch a lot of people here, and in different age groups," Roza said.
Follow Nanci Hutson on Twitter @HutsonNanci. Reach her at 928-445-3333, ext. 2041, or 928-642-6809.