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Social Workers Can Reinforce Clients' Coping Skills During Recession Setbacks

Lagging Economy Tied to Rise in Suicides

"We need to reach out more during hard economic times," said forensic suicidologist Frank Campbell.

Several major news stories have shed light on a disturbing trend: Suicide rates in some regions have spiked and the economic recession is being cited as a factor.

While national statistics on suicide lag by three to four years, news sources have conducted their own investigations about the topic. The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, MSNBC and Business Week have published stories in the past year highlighting local data and calls for more support for the newly unemployed or those facing financial devastation.

The Wall Street Journal surveyed 33 of the nation's most populous states and found 19 have suicide data for 2008. In all, those 19 states reported 15,335 suicides in 2008, up about 2.3 percent from the previous year. Thirteen states, accounting for 30 percent of the U.S. population, also reported more suicides in 2008 than the previous year, the story noted.

Suicides by county: Taking a look at statistics on a county level, a recent investigative report by MSNBC noted spikes in suicides in certain areas of the Midwest. One example was Elkhart County in Indiana, where it was noted that before 2009 even came to a close, 22 suicides had been recorded. That figure outpaced the annual average of 16 self-inflicted deaths. John White, Elkhart County medical examiner, was quoted as saying more than a quarter of the cases were attributed to distress caused by job loss or financial failure.

"We have a real problem," White told MSNBC. "They left notes specifically stating that the reason they did this was because of the economy."

The state of Michigan has been devastated by the economic downturn. It became the first state in 25 years to suffer an unemployment rate exceeding 15 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. In June, the state's unemployment rate rose to 15.2 percent, the highest of any state since March 1984. Michigan has been battered by the near collapse of the auto industry and was among the first states to suffer through the housing crisis before it became a national trend.

MSNBC examined Michigan's Macomb County, which has around 830,000 residents. From 1979 to 2006, the county saw an average of 81 suicides each year. The figure jumped to 104 in 2008 and to an alarming 178 in the first seven months of 2009. The county sheriff's department said it responds nearly daily to calls about suicide attempts.

Kent County in Michigan has a population of about 605,000 and reports an average of about 47 suicides each year. In 2006, there were 66 suicides and in the first seven months of 2009, there were already 41 self-inflicted deaths.

Multiple reasons: Social workers and health professionals interviewed for this story agree that suicide is a complex area of study. However, one theory is consistent with experts: It is rare that a single cause leads people to want to kill themselves.

Social worker Frank Campbell labels himself a forensic suicidologist. "When it comes to suicide, there is never one factor," he said. "If a person lost his job, that is one variable."

If depression or other negative events are brewing in a person's life at the same time, it can lead to a deep feeling of despair, said Campbell, past president of the American Association of Suicidology and executive director of the Crisis Center Foundation based in Baton Rouge, La.

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