Editor's note: This week is National Suicide Prevention Week. This story is the first of a two-day series on suicide, prevention and response in Coconino County.
On average, one Coconino County resident committed suicide every two weeks between 2010 and 2016.
This statistic, along with others that lend themselves to the critical suicide problem within in the county, comes from a 2017 Coconino County Public Health Services District report.
The report, Suicide in Coconino County 2017: An Overview of Suicide Trends from 2010-2016, is based primarily on death certificates and hospital records, and shows that at a rate of 25.4, Coconino County’s suicide rate is higher than that of Arizona’s 13.3 the United States’ 18.2.
While the rates in Coconino County are high, the county comes in at No. 7 in the state, with Yavapai, Mohave and Gila counties leading the 15 Arizona counties.
During the six-year span, 184 Coconino County residents committed suicide, an average of 26 per year. Eighty percent of the 184 people were male, and the median age for suicide death was 39 years old.
The majority of those who took their own life were white and Native American, and three out of four suicides occurred at home. From 2010–2016, 93 residents committed suicide in the Flagstaff area, 23 in Tuba City, 17 in Page, six in the Sedona area and five at or near the Grand Canyon. The remaining 40 were in other places throughout the county.
The report showed that LGBTQ teens in Coconino County are at a high risk for suicide. When county teenagers were surveyed, 60 percent of LGBTQ teens reported feeling sad or hopeless everyday compared to 26 percent of other teens. The report also indicated that 38 percent of LGBTQ teens made suicide plans in the last year and 29 percent of them made a suicide attempt in the last year, compared to 12 and 6 percent of other teens respectively.
The data in the report also showed that veterans’ risk for suicide was three times higher than that of non-veterans.
Forty percent of suicides in Coconino County from 2010-2016 were residents of other counties and states.
The report showed there were 115 non-residents who committed suicide in Coconino in that time, with the majority of incidents occurring in Flagstaff (57), the Grand Canyon area (17) and Sedona (15).
The majority of those from other areas were more likely to be white men under 16 years old.
The report states that there were 1,800 attempted suicide hospital visits in the county between 2010 and 2016; however, this number doesn’t include attempts that didn’t involve hospital visits. Aside from a slight peak in 2011, which saw 339 attempts, the number of suicide-related visits were about the same every year and averaged 307 attempts.
The data in the report showed that suicide-related hospital visits were more common among young women, and at least one in every three patients were Native American.
Acknowledging and addressing
Within the report is a letter to the community written by Marie Peoples, the Health Service District Chief Health Officer.
“Suicide is an issue that affects all Coconino County residents,” Peoples wrote. “The human and economic costs of suicidal behavior to individuals, families, communities and society makes suicide a serious health problem.”
Peoples added that the Health Services District strives to bring together many different perspectives of the community to strengthen prevention efforts, and that the public health approach to suicide prevention requires the community to work together to address system, community, family and personal factors that lead to suicide.
“Suicide is preventable and together we can ensure that suicide is prevented in Coconino County,” she wrote.
The Health Services District presented suicide-prevention information at the 2018 Northern Arizona Suicide Prevention Conference earlier this month in Flagstaff.
Included in the information was the idea that preventing suicide involves everyone in the community, from the top down.
The presentation showed that: states can help ease unemployment and housing stress by providing temporary help; health care systems can offer treatment options by phone or online where services are not widely available; employers can apply policies that create a healthy environment and reduce stigma about seeking help.
It went on to suggest that communities can help by offering programs and events to increase a sense of belonging among residents. Schools can teach students skills to manage challenges like relationship and school problems. And everyone can learn the warning signs for suicide, how to respond and where to get help.