Record number of suicides in Kent County last year, national average on the rise

KENT COUNTY, Mich. - Suicides in Kent Co. have reached an all-time high for the third year in a row. Eighty-nine deaths were ruled as suicides in 2017 with 24 other cases still under review.

Dr. Stephen Cohle, Chief Medical Examiner in Kent County, says out of the 450 autopsies for violent deaths, drug overdoses, and suicides; roughly 95 of those will be deemed suicides by the time his annual report is released to public this Spring.

"We have to have preponderance of evidence, 51 percent to make a ruling about a manner of death whether it’s accident, suicide, homicide or undetermined," said Dr. Cohle. 

According to the annual report from the Kent County Medical Examiner's Office, 76 people died by suicide in 2015, 86 people in 2016, and 89 suicides were on count for 2017 as of Tuesday, with 24 cases still up for review.

These alarming numbers have prompted a serious call to action from mental health professionals.

"Nine out of 10 times, when someone dies by suicide, they have an illness due to depression in combination with possibly another illness or substance abuse disorder," said Christy Buck, Executive Director for the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan. 

Buck understands suicide can affect people of all ages, saying suicide is the second leading cause of death among high school and college students. However, seven out of 10 suicides in 2017 in Kent County were middle aged men ages 55-64.

"We need to be bold and start these conversations at a young age," Buck said.

The rise in suicides is comparable to the data derived from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, which says the national average has been rising steadily since 2007.

Facts about suicide from the AFSP:

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.

44,965 Americans die by suicide every year.

For every suicide there are 25 attempts.

Suicide costs the United States $69 billion.

In 2016, the highest U.S. suicide rate (15.17) was among Whites and the second highest rate (13.37) was among American Indians and Alaska Natives

Christy Buck has made it her life's mission to put an end to suicide, issuing an action plan for West Michigan called 'Be Nice.'

Buck says it invites the public to notice a change in someone's behavior, then have a loving and caring conversation with them. Next, you invite yourself to tell someone that you've noticed a change in your friend or loved one. Then, you challenge stigma by asking the tough questions.

Lastly, Buck says we empower others through helping someone struggling with thoughts of self-harm by finding the resources and support they need.

Anyone looking for help can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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