Suicide rates continue to rise, more prominent in rural areas

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. Researchers at Ohio State University did a county-by-county survey over a 17-year period (1999-2016) and discovered a 41 percent increase in suicides across the country with the highest rates coming in less populated counties.

The Ozarks region of Missouri and Arkansas are among those with higher rates in rural areas.

"In rural communities it's especially hard because people are a lot more isolated," explained Stephanie Appleby, the local Executive Director for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. "Isolation can cause you to overthink. It can cause your depression to get worse."

Appleby knows all about the subject of isolation.

She spent 14 years of her life confined to her home because of panic attacks and at one point, she admitted, "I got into the bathtub and slit my wrists."

As a suicide survivor she now tries to help others in her current job working for an advocacy group that's dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness.

But like one out of every five people in our country who's dealing with a mental illness, Appleby knows it's an ongoing battle.

"I do fight every day," she said. "Some days are worse than others. I have lost five family members to suicide and sometimes I think, 'Is that my fate?' I am going through a particularly difficult time right now. I'm in a position of leadership so I think the pressure I put on myself is probably too much."

The Ohio State study also mentions that with half of all suicides involving guns, access to those weapons plays a role in suicide rates as does access to good health care because people need to be able to afford professional help for a growing problem that still carries a stigma in our society.

"It's maybe even a referendum on where our society is," said Dr. Curtis Mattson, the Behavioral Health Coordinator at Cox Health. "We have lots of distress in our neighborhood, in our schools, in our political systems and in our family systems but we've created a situation where we don't often talk about it."

But both Mattson and Appleby point out that burying our heads in the sand is not going to bring suicide numbers down.

"The biggest mistake we make is not realizing that all of us are the front-line interventionists. There's no sunshine and hallelujah chorus that shines down from heaven when we say the right word to people. There's not a magic word for it. It's just being available."

"I think it's important to remember that while you may not understand what someone's going through, be empathic," Appleby added. "Because you may be the last thread for that person."

Read the original version of this article at www.ky3.com.