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Director Ed Reuter and dispatchers at the Bartholomew County Emergency Operations Center are involved with suicide-related calls nearly every day.
Although an increase in calls can cause concern from a public-safety perspective, on a personal level Reuter considers the fact that more troubled individuals are reaching out for help is a positive thing.
In February 2002, Reuter’s father killed himself without making a plea for help. “I wish Dad would have called a center like this 11 years ago,” he said.
Reuter’s father lived in Evansville at the time, while Reuter was a state trooper living in Bartholomew County. He had talked to his father only days before and had no indication that a suicide was being contemplated. He found out his father had died when two troopers and Reuter’s church pastor arrived to give him the news. His father had shot himself and left a note instructing rescuers to contact his son in Columbus.
“When they came to the door and I opened the door and I saw the look on their face, that was the same look that I had many times when I was on the other side,” Reuter said.
“Even with time ... the hurt is still there. It is always there.”
A rising number of attempted suicide and suicide-threatening emergency calls locally has not been accompanied by a rise in the number of suicides, which emergency specialists call a hopeful sign.
The number of calls threatening suicide more than doubled, from 91 in 2010 to 185 in 2012,
The number of suicide attempt calls has gone up 19 percent, from 67 in 2010 to 80 in 2012.
But the number of suicides was 13 in 2010 and 12 in 2012.
The number of suicides in Bartholomew County has remained steady during at least the past 13 years at about 11 a year, said Larry Fisher, the county coroner. A count from the Bartholomew County Health Department during the past five years found the same average.
Roger Brinkman, a therapist at Centerstone, said he thinks the rise in the number of calls could mean that more people are seeking help, rather than committing the act.
“Is it a sign of a problem? Perhaps,” Brinkman said. “But it is also a good sign that people are more aware that things can be done. That help is out there. That if I call 911, I can get help.”
Brinkman said the economy has taken a toll on the patients he sees in his practice. For those who are unemployed, it has been a difficult time with little improvement in their situation, Brinkman said.
“The economy is good, but for the people for whom the economy is not good, (they) are worse than they have ever been before,” Brinkman said. “I have seen a lot more people complaining of economic hardship, poverty, no income, homelessness.”
One of the leading rationales for suicide is a desire to escape from an intolerable situation, he said.
“It is an expression of extreme distress,” Brinkman said. “When people get depressed and they get severely depressed, they begin to feel hopeless. ... The brain isn’t working right when we are depressed. We don’t see a way out. We don’t see solutions. We can’t plug in that faith that ‘somehow I am going to get by this.’ Everything looks dark. Everything looks negative. Everything looks hopeless. You feel sort of painted into a corner.”
As coroner, Fisher is called to the scene of every suicide in the county. One difference he has seen in his 27 years in the job is the method that people use to commit suicide. When he first was elected to the job, hangings were the prevalent method of suicide. That has since been eclipsed by gunshot deaths and drug overdoses, Fisher said.
On a per capita basis, Bartholomew County’s rate averages about 13 suicides per 100,000 people, which is the same rate as the state of Indiana, according to the American Association of Suicidology in Washington. It is also in line with the national average of 12.4 suicide deaths per 100,000, according to the association’s statistics.
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