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Suicide up, homicide down in county so far in 2012, says coroner

Jul 26, 2012 - By Martin Reed, Staff Writer

Fremont County Coroner Ed McAuslan's records show that suicides are increasing, with three more happening during the first six months of the year than the same time in 2011.

Talking to county commissioners July 24 about his second-quarter report for 2012, McAuslan reported that his office recorded 10 suicides during the year's first half.

"The suicide rate so far for 2012 continues to increase from the low of six for the entire year of 2010," McAuslan said.

Suicides in Fremont County totaled 14 in 2011, representing an increase that had followed a decline since a high of 18 of 2006, McAuslan previously reported.

The coroner said youths were not among the 2012 deaths.

The increase generated concern from the commission. Commission Travis Becker asked the coroner to explain the increase.

"To pin that down we would have to do what's called a psychological autopsy," he said. "I think that's a little bit further than what we're capable of doing at this time."

Some of the suicides had a motive attached, and when pressed for other causes, McAuslan said that in the past, his office had reviewed a host of information pertaining to the suicide cases at the time.

"When we put all of our data together we didn't have a common denominator," he said.

Substance abuse remains a common factor in the suicides and some of the other deaths recorded by McAuslan's office.

McAuslan's report showed that drugs, alcohol or both were part of 70 percent of suicides and 75 percent of accidental deaths during 2012's first two quarters.

Homicides

The single homicide recorded in 2012's first half involved drugs or alcohol, McAuslan said, adding the homicide was a motor vehicle death.

Homicides for 2012 show a sharp decline from the same period last year, when they totaled six. Last year had a record high of 23 in Fremont County, compared to nine in 2010 and the previous highs of 14 in 2008 and 2009.

McAuslan attributed part of the decline in homicides to a decrease in motor vehicle deaths.

"Motor vehicle deaths are considerably down in the county, resulting also in a corresponding drop in motor vehicle homicides," he said in his report.

The first half of 2012 had four vehicular deaths -- six fewer than the same time last year.

Three of the vehicular deaths involved drugs or alcohol, and all of them were single-vehicle rollovers, McAuslan said. Three of them also had a lack of seat-belt use.

Accidental deaths totaled 12 for the first half of 2012, compared to 10 for the same time in 2011.

"The total number of deaths, and number of coroner cases, have increased compared to last year, and the percentages of drugs and alcohol involved in non-natural cases has increased," McAuslan said in his report.

He defined non-natural deaths as those from accident, homicide, suicide or undetermined.

Suicide prevention

Commission chairman Doug Thompson said he had noticed a "flurry of programming activities" related to drugs and alcohol prevention. He questioned whether a decrease in those programs have carried an effect.

"Suicide (prevention), of course, we're still very active, but I think it's funding," McAuslan said.

He noted the state previously provided $20,000 to Fremont County for suicide prevention, but the amount is $10,000 now.

Commissioner Keja Whiteman said funding remains for treatment programs, which tend to be costly.

"I think it's really prevention dollars that have gone away," she said. "It's hard to measure the success that those (dollars) have."

Warning signs of suicide

- Talking about wanting to die

- Looking for a way to kill oneself

- Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose

- Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain

- Talking about being a burden to others

- Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs

- Action anxious, agitated or recklessly

- Sleeping too little or too much

- Withdrawing or feeling isolated

- Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge

- Displaying extreme mood swings

The more of these signs a person shows, the greater the risk. Warning signs are associated with suicide but may not be what causes a suicide

What to do

If someone you know exhibits warning signs of suicide:

- Do not leave the person alone

- Remove any firearms, alcohol, drugs or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt

- Call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK

- Take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional

Source: Nevada Department of Health and Human Services

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