The good news is suicide in Harvey County is stable, if not on the decline, according to law enforcement officials.
“We have not seen an increase, nor an increase in teen suicide, in the past several years,” said Jason Reynolds, leader of the community chaplain response team. “We have been below average on the number of suicides in the county for a number of years now.”
According to the Newton Police Department, there has been one completed suicide this year. There have been seven cases of an attempt or threat of suicide investigated by the department. In 2016 there were 24 cases of a threat or an attempt made, though none completed.
The numbers have not always looked that way. In 2010, the county coroner’s office announced Harvey County had a 50 percent higher suicide rate than the average county this size. That spurred action, with the creation of a coalition to start dealing with the issue of suicide.
“Our first goal was to give the community an opportunity to talk about it,” Reynolds said. “At the time no one was talking about it. What we first learned was saying nothing about it was a horrible prevention about it.”
It was out of those efforts that a "Yellow Ribbon" campaign was formed — business cards bearing a yellow ribbon that one on side contained a call for help, and on the other instructions for someone who received the card to help who they received the card from.
From that came a number of presentations and the creation of a strategy for follow-up with families following a suicide. There are also efforts to educate the community about risk factors.
“In the process of all of that, we get welfare check calls and people talking to us about people they are concerned about,” Reynolds said. “The more the community knows about it, the greater chance first responders and mental health has to respond.”
The current statistics from the Centers ofr Disease Control show a seven-year suicide rate of 14.4 per 100,000 people for Harvey County. That is spot on the state average of 14.4. In the area, Reno County was at 13.13, Sedgwick County at 14.23, McPherson County at 14.5 and Butler County was at 14.56.
Of the 30 Kansas counties with available data via the CDC website, Barton County showed the highest rate at 22.32 per 100,000 people.
According to kansassuicideprevention.org, the Kansas suicide rate was higher than the national rate during each year in the 2004-2013 period, the most recent statistics available. In 2013, the Kansas suicide rate of 14.7 suicides per 100,000 population was 16.7 percent higher than the national rate of 12.6 suicides per 100,000 population.
A new concern
There is still a new concern —namely with a pop culture influence on teens. The show “13 Reasons Why,” distributed online by Netflix, has some in the area concerned.
“13 Reasons Why” looks at the life and death of Hannah Baker, a high-school girl who dies by suicide. Two weeks after her tragic death, a classmate finds a mysterious box on his porch. Inside the box are recordings made by Hannah in which she explains the 13 reasons why she chose to commit suicide. If her classmate decides to listen to the recordings, he will find out if and how he made the list.
While locally the effects of the show may not have been seen, the International Association of Suicide Prevention has shown concern. According to the association, there is consistent evidence of the negative impact of detailed and graphic portrayals of suicide in terms of an increased risk of copycat suicides, especially among young people.
According to the association, research has consistently shown that following the detailed portrayal of suicide in the media the risk of suicide involving the same method increased from 81 to 175 percent in the weeks and months after the release
Prairie View is taking the lead on local efforts to deal with the show — offering evenings for parents to learn how to talk about the show in Hillsboro and Marion before scheduling an event in Newton.
“The feedback from the Hillsboro meeting was that it would be good to do one in Newton,” said Tyra R. Streck, marketing director for Prairie View. “Our hope was to get it scheduled when school staff would be back around and able to participate.”
The Newton presentation provided by Prairie View clinicians Allyson Krehbiel, LSCSW, Mai Manchanda, T-LMLP, and Kylie Moore, LMFT will be at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 7 at Shalom Mennonite Church, 800 E. First.
“I have not noticed an increase in admission since the presentation or due to the presentation,” Moore said. “We were hoping to get it closer to school as the show focuses a lot on the school aspect and we could get more involvement in the school with teachers and information out there about it as much of the conflict in the show is during school so we can get teachers and others to be thinking more about bullying prevention and things like that."
Time will be made available for those in attendance to ask the clinicians questions. A summary of each episode, as well as questions to begin a conversation, will also be available that evening.
According to mentalhealth.gov, there are universal warning signs to be on the lookout for. Those include:
Talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself
Looking for a way to kill oneself
Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
Talking about being a burden to others
Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly
Sleeping too little or too much
Withdrawing or feeling isolated
Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
Displaying extreme mood swings
If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1.800.273.TALK (8255). Trained crisis workers are available to talk 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Local help may be available by calling Prairie View at 1-800-362-0180.
According to the Yellow Ribbon campaign, if you think someone is in immediate danger do not leave them alone — stay with and call 911 or help lines for help.
About this story
A recent suicide in Harvey County, coupled with the creation of an evening created by Prairie View to discuss the effects of a show about teenage suicide watchable on the internet, left the Kansan asking what the scope of the suicide problem in the area currently is.
Why it is important
For nearly a decade a coalition has been working to increase awareness and reduce the suicide rate in Harvey County. At one time, the county suicide rate was well above the state and national averages.