COVINGTON, LA (WVUE) - St. Tammany Parish is reporting an alarming number of suicides, much higher than the national average. According to the parish coroner, Dr. Charles Preston, 47 people killed themselves during 2014.
Statistics show the suicide rate of 19.4 per 100,000 residents. That compares to the national rate 12.3 per 100,000. According to the CDC, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.
"The suicide rate in St. Tammany Parish has been and remains remarkably high," Preston said. "We're always looking for ways to attack this epidemic, and arming ourselves with related data is another step in planning strategies to address the situation."
Preston personally reviewed each case file from 2014's suicide cases, and began to cross-tabulate coincidental factors. Forty-five of the cases involved Caucasians, 33 were male, and the median age was 51. Methods included gunshot wound most commonly (62%), asphyxiation (hanging or suffocation) (28%), poisoning (8%) and exsanguination (2%).
Most of the cases (37) occurred in western St. Tammany Parish; of the others, eight were in Slidell and two in Lacombe. Thirty of the cases involved a person who had expressed mental health concerns or had a history of psychiatric treatment. Twenty-seven included an "inciting event," such as the loss of a job or relationship. Twenty-four involved alcohol use, and 14 involved illicit drugs. Nine had a history of attempting suicide. Only four were currently undergoing treatment, although 17 were taking antidepressants.
"That only four cases involved people undergoing mental health care but 17 were being treated for depression is a concern," Preston said. "It seems many primary care physicians are prescribing psychiatric drugs without patients receiving counseling or other support during treatment. That's not a criticism of PCPs, who may, in fact, be making counseling or psychiatric referrals and dealing with non-compliant patients. Rather, it underscores the need for awareness among patients: Medication alone will rarely address the condition."
Preston reminds residents of public resources such as 211 or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273- TALK (8255).