Suicides are becoming increasingly common in Pettis County. Mental health professionals and social workers in the community say the reasons behind each death, however, don’t provide generalizations of society as a whole.
The numbers have practically doubled each year since 2010. Already this year, Pettis County Coroner Robert “Skip” Smith said there have been at least 12. The suicide rate more than doubled between 2013 and 2014, from eight in 2012 and 2013 to 14 or 15 in 2014.
Sheriff Kevin Bond said he thinks the problem’s multifaceted.
“We’re seeing a reduction in services with people who have mental illness, and I think this is partially responsible for the increase in people with mental illness,” Bond said. “I think there is a correlation. I think that’s part of it. I don’t think it’s entirely it.”
Bond said Pettis County has seen a reduction in funding toward mental health services, so people who don’t have adequate access to mental health services are becoming involved in situations that involve law enforcement.
“Multiple things come into play here,” Bond said. “We’re seeing a reduction in the amount of services, and of course services cost money and the rebound effect is we’re seeing facilities closing that would be able to have bed space available for people with mental illness. We’re also seeing facilities or services being reduced to be able to provide adequate supervision to make sure people are taking their medicines.
“We’re also seeing it being harder for some people to be able to obtain their meds whether it’s because they’re not able to retain insurance or other situations that you know that they’re not being adequately supervised or able to take their medicine at the regimen they’re supposed to, and so I think that’s causing an increased issue of mental health in our community.”
Karen Moss, director of satellite services at Burrell Behavioral Health and interim clinic manager of the Sedalia clinic, said she doesn’t know if the numbers of patients with depression or suicidal tendencies have increased at Burrell because she thinks suicide and mental health issues have always been a problem.
“We concentrate on trying to restore health versus just concentrating on (suicide prevention),” Moss said. “We really focus on good mental health. That’s where we strive, and recovery.
“I think sometimes we have more awareness with the stigma I would like to think is being addressed. We’ve always known that suicide is not a new issue.”
From a mental health professional’s standpoint, Moss said Burrell staff is concerned about every person’s mental health situation because each patient is different.
“For us, it’s each person, one person at a time, and if someone has those feelings, they’re theirs and we need to address that,” Moss said. “Increased numbers, how many times do we prevent? I don’t know. We don’t know when. We believe that if we treat that person, then that’s our best prevention. It is our best prevention to treat them and be aware of their symptoms and be aware of their conditions.”
Moss said the high-profile suicides of public figures such as Robin Williams and State of Missouri officials Tom Schweich in February and Robert “Spence” Jackson a few weeks later have affected society as a whole. On a personal level, however, it’s more difficult to generalize the effects of public figures’ suicides on individuals with suicidal risk.
“You know the tricky thing with mental health is it’s sometimes a little bit difficult to generalize to everybody,” Moss said. “You can’t. Public events affect us all, and clients being served hear the information just the same. Does it make them worse? Does it make them better?
“Each suicide is an individual story. Robin Williams was an individual story. What was haunting him? What prompted him to feel that he was in such despair that that was his only solution? It’s so difficult for us to generalize and speak to trends and talk to numbers, and yes there are increases because we treat one person at a time.”
Moss said substance abuse also potentially has an impact on someone’s mental health. Pathways Community Health, a mental health service that focuses on wellness and recovery from substance use disorders, is another local outlet for individuals seeking mental health treatment.
Libby Brockman-Knight, a licensed professional counselor and senior addiction recovery and prevention director at Pathways, said she hasn’t noticed an increase in clients with depression or suicidal tendencies, but each client showing signs of severe or persistent depression is enrolled and referred to their psychiatry services with Burrell, the clinic’s contracted provider.
Brockman-Knight said it’s not just the stigma that keeps people from seeking treatment, but the disease itself.
“The symptoms of that often are the barrier for people to seek treatment,” Brockman-Knight said. “When you’re depressed you isolate and you don’t get out, you don’t go to your doctor, you don’t take care of yourself. If you have an addiction a lot of times asking for help or acknowledging that is part of the disease process itself.”
Donni Kuck, a licensed clinical social worker and vice president of operations at Pathways, said there’s a high risk for suicide with people who have substance use disorders, so Pathways staff evaluate and monitor those clients consistently.
“Every visit people are evaluated to assure that if they’re in that mindset that we are addressing that and making appropriate referrals or contracting with the individual appropriately to make sure that they have a plan not to follow through,” she said.
Leah Wankum can be reached at 826-1000 or @leahwankum.