Ohio suicide deaths rose in 2021 after two-year decline
This article discusses suicide. If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline available 24/7.
COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Suicide deaths climbed in Ohio in 2021, ending a two-year decline witnessed in years prior, according to new data from the state Department of Health.
As the 12th-leading cause of death in Ohio, suicide accounted for the deaths of 1,766 Ohioans in 2021, an 8% increase from the year before, the department said Friday in its 2021 Suicide Demographics and Trends report. That means about five Ohioans – up from four in 2020 – died by suicide every day.
“We’ve got to reduce that number,” said Tony Coder, executive director of the Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation. “We’ve got to get that down to four, then to three, then to two, then to one every day – and hopefully put me out of business.”
The statewide rise in suicide deaths mirrors trends at both the local and national levels, with Franklin County recording a 10% jump in suicide deaths from 2020 to 2021 and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recording a 4.79% rise across the U.S. during the same period.
Between the coronavirus pandemic, financial hardships, and social unrest experienced across the U.S., Coder said 2021 took a toll on the mental health of Ohioans, likely attributing to the rise in suicides.
“Two years ago, it’s kind of hard to remember, but there were some folks that were losing their jobs, businesses were struggling, just the lack of being able to see each other in person was something that really took an impact on folks,” he said.
But with the right help, Coder said suicide is preventable. While Ohio loses five people to suicide every day, another 35 are checking into emergency rooms daily for treatment after a suicide attempt, he said.
“Those are 35 people that are seeking help and getting the care that they need,” Coder said. “That’s where I hope that we can also see, that for all of the hopelessness that this report might show, there’s a lot of hope out there for folks if they get the care that they deserve.”
White people had the largest increase, 7%, in the rate of suicide deaths per 100,000 people, according to the Department of Health. The rate among Black Ohioans – though it has steadily increased since 2012 – stayed largely the same in 2021.
Despite making up just under half of Ohio’s population, men accounted for 81% of suicide deaths in 2021, the report found. Those aged 75 and older had the highest suicide rate relative to other age groups. Among women, the rate was highest within the 45 to 54-year-old age bracket.
As for method, firearms were the No. 1 mechanism for completing a suicide among both men and women, with guns accounting for 991 deaths in Ohio in 2021 – a 10% increase from the year before. Coder said one data point that surprised him was the 22% rise in suicide deaths by drug poisoning.
“We have not seen that type of increase before,” he said.
Rural communities, which historically have lacked access to mental health resources, were hit hardest by suicide in 2021, the report found. Of the 15 counties with the highest rates of suicide death, 14 are considered rural.
“If you get into Jackson, Gallia counties down by the Ohio River, you might have to travel a county or two just to find somebody to seek care from,” Coder said. “It’s literally an access to care issue that needs to be addressed.”
Ohio’s suicide prevention plan
In 2020, the state partnered with Coder’s organization, the Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation, to create the Suicide Prevention Plan for Ohio. Since then, the state has implemented awareness programs like Life Side Ohio for gun owners, a 988 suicide and crisis hotline, and the Ohio School Wellness Initiative to prevent and address suicide in schools.
Gov. Mike DeWine, who has made funding for mental health a priority during his administration, proposed the allocation of millions of dollars in the fiscal year 2024-25 budget, including:
$46.5 million for the continued operation of the 988 hotline
$8 million to continue and expand the state’s 2020 Suicide Prevention Plan
$100 million to create the State of Ohio Action for Resiliency Network, or SOAR, to develop and implement mental health and addiction prevention, treatment and recovery
$50 million for pediatric behavioral health workforce and developing Psychiatric Residential Treatment Facilities
“Most of this funding is sent directly to local communities and will be used to increase the number of Ohioans trained to help people build skills to bounce back from difficult life events and to reduce stigma so people can ask for help without shame,” Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services Director Lori Criss said in a statement.
Ultimately, Coder said it’s important that those considering suicide – and those impacted by suicide – recognize that they are not alone and recovery is possible.
“We can get help; we can have hope,” he said. “And that’s what I hope our message is: You don’t feel like you’re on an island, you don’t feel like you’re all alone.”
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