Sam Bauman: Nevada has nation’s fifth-worst suicide rate

One of the volunteer benefits — other than the satisfaction of helping those who need help — is the usual monthly lecture for Respite and drivers given by the Retired Senior Volunteer Program, usually at the Western Nevada College campus in one of the ultra-modern classrooms. Usually there are 30 to 40 volunteers on hand. The most recent meeting dealt with suicide and Parkinson’s dementia.

Those are two big subjects, so let’s look first at what was offered recently. Debbie Posnien, executive director of the Douglas County Suicide Prevention Network, was the speaker.

Depression and suicide are closely related, she said briskly. “Most people who kill themselves are dealing with depression.”

She added some statistics: In the United States there is a suicide every 14 minutes, or 98 a day. And Nevada is among the states with the highest number. Here’s a list of the 10 states where suicide is most common:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics calculated age-adjusted suicide rates by state.

10. Oregon: 15.2 suicides per 100,000

9. Utah: 15.4 suicides per 100,000

8. West Virginia: 15.9 suicides per 100,000

7. Arizona: 16.1 suicides per 100,000

6. Colorado: 16.4 suicides per 100,000

5. Nevada: 18.3 suicides per 100,000

4. Montana: 19.4 suicides per 100,000

3. Wyoming: 19.7 suicides per 100,000

2. New Mexico: 20.4 suicides per 100,000

1. Alaska: 22.1 suicides per 100,000

Obviously, Western states predominate. Posnien suggested that these states have large lands and usually thin populations. “Isolation is one of the chief causes of suicide,” she said. And Douglas County has among the highest suicide rates in Nevada.

Yearly, some 35,000 Americans commit suicide. About half use firearms. A quarter die of suffocation. Some 90 percent have depression or other mental disorders. Men are almost four times as likely as women to commit suicide. Men do it with guns; most women are sensitive to appearances and choose poison or suffocation. The rate for non-Hispanic white men age 85 or older is four times as high as the national average.

Suicide is the 11th-leading cause of death overall in America.

“Men are more likely to die from suicide than women, although women attempt it more than men. Firearms are now the leading cause of suicide.”

Posnien listed some of the warning signs of suicide:

• Talking about wanting to do or kill oneself.

• Looking for the means to commit suicide, such as searching on line for ways or how to buy a gun.

• Talking of feeling hopeless and having no reason to live.

• Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain. Or of being a burden to others.

• Increased use of alcohol or drugs.

• Visiting or calling people to say goodbye.

• Giving away prized possessions and putting one’s affairs in order.

Posnien emphasized one thing: if you hear someone saying “Don’t tell anyone, but I’m thinking about committing suicide,” at once contact family members or call 911 or suicide-prevention hotlines, 800-SUICIDE or 800-273-TALK, or 911.

Information like this is important for Respite and drivers with RSVP. They are often in a position to observe some of the warning signs and know that they are supposed to act.

And in a personal case, had I known the above I might have been able to help an old friend, who displayed some of the warning signs. He called me several years ago to tell me he was sending me a copy of his newest novel, “The House with 40 Mats,” a book about the house we shared when working in Tokyo. On the phone he said something about getting things in order. And then I talked to his companion, a woman who worked at UCLA, and she told me with a laugh that my friend had recently bought a gun for the first time in his life. Protection against robbers, she explained, although they lived in an affluent section of California.

Next time I heard from her she called to tell me he had attempted suicide and had succeeded. She told me the book was wrapped and she would send it to me.

Now I know that the signs were there. He was an easygoing, L.A.-born and -bred man, author of a best-selling humor book about Richard Nixon titled “The Begetting of a President.” He never hunted, knew nothing of guns. And all the warning signs were there, but I was too ill-informed to act.

The Suicide Network Prevention Network is planning the seventh annual Walk in Memory, Walk for Hope, on Saturday Sept. 14, starting at the Carson Valley Historical Museum lawn on U.S. Highway 395 in Gardnerville. It starts off at 8 a.m. with registration, resource information and exhibits, with a breakfast for hope on the museum front lawn. Breakfast is a $6 donation for adults, and $3 for children under 10. Call Posnien at 775-783-1510 for information. You can register for the walk at www.nvsuicide

Note: News of Parkinson’s disease next time.


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