The number of suicides among white men between the ages of 45 and 65 spiked 72 percent from 2013 to 2014 in Bristol County, which includes 20 towns southwest of Boston and along the south coast including Taunton, New Bedford and Fall River.
The figures come from the Bristol County Regional Coalition for Suicide Prevention, which gets its data from the district attorney’s office. Among all the suicide deaths in 2014 in that county, 87 percent were men. Advocates say the male suicide rate last year was significantly higher than the state average, and the trend is similar so far in 2015.
The alarming increase in suicides in Bristol County — most of them among middle-aged men — is leading suicide prevention advocates to team up with the district attorney to get out the word that there is help.
On Monday, the Bristol County Regional Coalition for Suicide Prevention and Bristol County District Attorney Thomas Quinn will release more specific data on suicide in the county.
WBUR’s All Things Considered Lisa Mullins spoke with Annemarie Matulis, executive director of the Bristol County Regional Coalition.
‘Suicide: A Crisis In The Shadows’
On the surge in suicides in recent years
“I was so concerned about it, I thought I had done the numbers wrong. And I went to a national expert and I said, ‘Am I forgetting my basic math?’ And he said ‘No, sadly, that’s absolutely true’ … The whole point of the steps we’re about to take is to prevent [suicides].”
On factors that contribute to suicide other than known triggers including financial and relationship problems
“Add substance abuse, add potential or known previous suicide attempts, grieving loss of someone else themselves — not necessarily to suicide. Depression is a big one, and it could be undiagnosed. Bipolar could be a contributing factor, most of it undiagnosed. We know nationally that a large percentage of people who [die by] suicide have seen a mental health or medical health professional within a month [of the time they killed themselves]. But it doesn’t mean they discussed what was really going on … And then there is scientific evidence, particularly with mental health and suicide, that men historically won’t ask for that help. We have conditioned men not to seek the help.”
On how the opioid abuse epidemic is contributing to the suicide crisis
“In Bristol County, [with] heroin overdoses, the only ones that we can peg, the coroner will peg, as suicide, are [people] that typically leave a note or have made some kind of pre-death statement. The other overdoses … so many of them could have been intentional, but we have no way of knowing if we have no other data or no other indicators about that. But certainly it’s a contributing factor … because there’s been contributing evidence [in some opiate-related deaths] that has indicated it was very clearly a suicide.”
On the stigma related to mental illness and suicide
“When I explain that I’m a cancer survivor, everybody applauds. And when I tell them that my professional job is suicide prevention, it clears the room. And that’s educated, informed people will still react with such a fear and uninformed reaction to suicide and to depression and to mental health in general. Most people who have mental health concerns live and work well. You wouldn’t know. They don’t have a neon sign on their forehead that glows out in the dark at you. But there’s a stigma and a perception that somehow they’re less than everybody else. That’s a systemic and a cultural change that has to happen, because people are dying because of it.”
Resources: You can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and the Samaritans Statewide Hotline at 1-877-870-HOPE (4673).