2018-06-17 / Insight

Suicide down slightly in Lapeer County

BY PHIL FOLEY
810-452-2616 • pfoley@mihomepaper.com


Lapeer County Suicide Prevention Network co-chairs Tim Campbell, counselor and owner of the Life Resource Center in Lapeer; and Betsy Felton, director of patient care services at McLaren Lapeer Region, along with McLaren’s Injury Prevention Coordinator Allie Scholtis review the Network’s new suicide prevention commercial, set to begin showing at Lapeer Cinema Friday. 
Photo by Phil Foley Lapeer County Suicide Prevention Network co-chairs Tim Campbell, counselor and owner of the Life Resource Center in Lapeer; and Betsy Felton, director of patient care services at McLaren Lapeer Region, along with McLaren’s Injury Prevention Coordinator Allie Scholtis review the Network’s new suicide prevention commercial, set to begin showing at Lapeer Cinema Friday. Photo by Phil Foley LAPEER COUNTY — While the deaths of celebrity food writer Anthony Bourdain and fashion designer Kate Spade attracted global attention in recent days, the suicides of two middle age men in Deerfield and Burnside townships earlier this month affected their families just as much.

The men, 58 and 55 years old, shot themselves. That, said Dr. Russell Bush, Lapeer County’s deputy medical examiner, is fairly typical for Lapeer County and much of the Thumb region. Bush, who’s been Lapeer County’s deputy medical examiner since 1993 and serves as deputy medical examiner in Sanilac County and medical examiner in Huron, Tuscola and Saginaw counties, said the vast majority of suicides in the region are white males between the ages of 30 and 60 who shoot themselves.

But while a recent Center for Disease Control report said suicides have increased in Michigan by 30 percent since 1999, the numbers in Lapeer County appear slightly down.

Bush said the numbers in Lapeer County began rising at a 45-degree angle in 2007, peaking with 19 in 2013, but since then have fallen back to around 15 annually, and until a 32-year-old Attica woman was found dead in a Lapeer motel Wednesday afternoon it was looking like the county might be headed for a record low year.

If the death, which is still under investigation, is confirmed as a suicide, it would bring the total up to seven for the year. But at that pace, it would still give Lapeer County one less than last year and the year before.

However, Bush noted, tracking suicides is difficult. He observed, if a car runs into the only tree on a two-mile stretch of straight road, was it an accident or deliberate? “It’s hard to call with no note,” he said.

He said in any given year there is probably another three or four deaths in the county annually that are likely suicides.

Lapeer County Emergency Medical Services (LCEMS) tracks attempted suicides, but even that is somewhat murky. LCEMS Executive Director Russ Adams noted it’s often difficult to determine if a drug overdose was accidental or deliberate.

Still, he said, confirmed attempted suicides are down substantially for the first five months of the year compared to the said period last year. In 2017, he said, LCEMS ended May with 25 attempted suicides and this year the agency ended the month with 12 attempts for the year.

Adams said LCEMS handles somewhere between 80 and 90 percent of the ambulance calls in the county.

He said a change in software last year makes it impossible for him to track those numbers for 2016 and earlier. Except when a victim makes a statement, Adams said, “It’s very difficult to identify (suicide attempts) within the reporting system.”

He did note there’s been an “exponential increase” in suicide attempts among military veterans and first responders nationwide in recent years.

Bush suggested an improving economy and increased public awareness may be contributing to lower suicide numbers in the county.

“People are more attuned to mental health issues,” he said. “Family members are calling quicker.”

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