Suicide in Humboldt: Record High Last Year
Humboldt County Coroner Ernie Stewart pointed out that 2015 was a particularly bad time for suicides. “Last year we set a record high,” he said. “Forty-three, the highest ever.”
These suicides left behind family and friends who are struggling to understand. In some cases, emergency responders had to call for backup from the Sheriff’s Office to deal with a grieving family members. Law enforcement, fire crews, emergency medical personnel, dispatchers and the coroner’s staff all had to deal with the trauma of what they saw and heard.
It’s a tradition among news organizations and law enforcement to keep quiet about suicides so as not to add pain to a family that is already struggling with so much. Unless the suicide is made public for some reason, the stories aren’t told. Here at Redheaded Blackbelt we’ve been following that tradition but as we saw the increasing number of suicides, we’ve been struggling. We do think that the silence might help individual families in the wake of the death heal and we don’t want to add to their pain. But, we’ve come to the conclusion that the silence is not helping. We need to be aware of the large number of people killing themselves in this county. There is no shame in suicide but there is shame in not bringing attention to the epidemic that is sweeping our communities. And being human, numbers don’t help us understand as well as stories do.
September is Suicide Prevention Month. During this month, we will be reporting suicides if we learn of them. If possible, we’ll try to present the emotional cost to families, friends, and emergency personnel. We hope by seeing the human reality that we as a community can begin to address the problem. Numbers don’t seem to catch people’s attention the way that stories do.
Nonetheless let’s take a look at the statistics: According to the California Department of Public Health, Humboldt ranked as the seventh worst county (out of 58) for suicides in California from 2011 through 2013. Just to get a sense of how abysmal this is, this means our rates of suicide at that time were three times as high as Los Angeles County and almost twice as high as the national average.
From 2009-2011 (the last where these kinds of statistics are available), suicide was Humboldt’s third leading cause of premature death.
In 2011, there were 24 suicides total in Humboldt. In 2015, there were 43. That was a 79% increase. Knowing that comparisons between single years can be misleading, we decided to look at five year increments and our most recent five year span is up almost 34% from the number of suicides during the 2003 to 2007 year span–from 127 to 170.
As is usual in the United States, the number of males who commit suicide in Humboldt is much higher than the number of females. From January 1, 2011 through March of this year, 130 men and 48 women have killed themselves. Typically, men are four times more likely than women to die from suicide. However, men here are “only” about three times more likely.
Across the country women actually have higher rate of attempting suicide but more men actually die from their attempts. One study indicates this is because women tend to use slower acting methods such as drug overdose which allows some time for them to be found and resuscitated and men use methods that are more immediately lethal such as firearms and hanging.
In Humboldt, the three main ways to commit suicide were guns, some form of asphyxiation by strangling (frequently this was hanging) and some form of drug overdose. By far men chose guns. Seventy-seven died by shooting themselves in the head or chest from the beginning of 2011 to the end of March of this year. By contrast, only 12 women preferred this method.
Women, on the other hand, preferred to use drugs/alcohol. Twenty chose this method of death during the same period. Eleven men chose this method.
Strangulation usually by hanging was used by thirty-two men and twelve women. A variety of methods including cutting with knives or inhaling carbon monoxide made up the remaining choices.
During this month, there will be more resources than normal available to the community to deal with this epidemic. For instance, the Southern Humboldt Family Resource Center is hosting a Suicide Awareness Week, Sept. 19-23rd. On Sept. 20th, there will be a Suicide Prevention assembly for Miranda Junior High and South Fork High School. On the 22nd, there will be a community remembrance dinner from 5-7 p.m. If you would like to help the Family Resource Center, contact Amy at 923-1147.
Below are links that could save a life if you or someone you know needs help: