Oregon’s suicide rate has been increasing since 2000, but people can take proactive steps to combat it.

For many years, the state’s suicide rate ranked seventh to ninth in the U.S., but the problem is getting worse.

In 2011, twice as many Oregonians died by suicide than were killed in vehicle crashes. According to the Oregon Violent Death Reporting System, suicide was the eighth leading cause of death in the state in 2012.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now regards suicide an epidemic.

Nearly 80 percent of suicides in the U.S. are by men. The cause is typically related to loss of self-esteem due to loss of employment, becoming ill, losing a spouse or partner, an embarrassing public disclosure or fearing loss of control. Suicide rates increase as people age, peaking after 85, and suicide impacts families for years, even generations.

According to the Oregon Health Authority, a little more than half of suicide victims in Oregon in 2012 used firearms, and about three-quarters of all firearm deaths were suicides. About 19 percent of suicides in Oregon that year were by poison, and another 19 percent were by hanging or suffocation. Men accounted for 61 percent of suicides by firearm, while women accounted for 42 percent of suicides involving poison.

Residents of rural Eastern Oregon share many of the same risk factors as other rural communities in the western states, according to Community Counseling Solutions Clinical Director Thad Labhart — geographical isolation, winter weather, family dynamics of denial, abuse, neglect and separation, lack of things to do, higher rates of gun ownership, relatively less access to mental health treatment, low socio-economic status and stigma issues about admitting mental health problems.

Experts have found some patterns in suicide numbers. Suicide attempts, for example, tend to peak on Mondays and fall away through the rest of the week. More than a third of suicide victims told others of their intentions, while another third left a note. About 20 percent had a history of suicide attempts. Nearly a quarter were believed to have consumed alcohol in the hours before their deaths.

About one-third of suicide victims in Oregon from 2003 to 2012 had experienced a crisis within the prior two weeks, including problems with an intimate partner, physical health, family stress, other relationships, lost jobs or problems at work, financial difficulties and criminal charges or other legal difficulties.

Suicide statistics also help professionals understand circumstances behind suicide ideation, attempts and successful completions. Dave Dalton and Emily Moser, counselors for Lines For Life, advise people to look for the positive. Even in their darkest hours, people contemplating suicide can be reminded of bright spots in their past, even small ones, Dalton said.

Ninety percent of people who have attempted suicide end up dying later in life of something else entirely, Moser said. Talking to people about their suicidal thoughts will not make the situation worse, Dalton said — a third of the people who call Lines for Life are calling for other people.

The time span from recognizing warning signs to a suicide attempt can be very short, Dalton said. Signs include loss of a job, spouse or close friends. A person contemplating suicide might talk about unbearable physical or psychological pain or severe anguish. Some have already been diagnosed for depression or have alcohol or drug abuse problems.

Signs to watch for:

• Can’t enjoy anything

• Anxiety or panic

• Insomnia

• Hopelessness or despair

• Homicidal ideation

• Psychotic disorder or command hallucinations

• Personality disorder

• Mood disorder

• Post-traumatic stress disorder

• Substance use, abuse or withdrawal

• Impulsivity, aggression or anti-social

• Ongoing medical illness, including chronic pain

• Recent or anticipated loss of relationship, finances, health or home

• Loss of support or increasing isolation

• Perceived burden on others

• Legal issues or incarceration

• Local suicide cluster or exposure to one through media

• Access to lethal means, including firearms

• Recent inpatient discharge

• Noncompliant or not in treatment

Suicide prevention resources

• Lines for Life, 800-273-8255, or text 273Talk to 839863

• Community Counseling Solutions, 541-575-1466

• David Romprey Oregon Warm Line, 1-800-698-2392

• Military Helpline, 888-457-4838, or text MIL1 to 839863

• Oregon Youth Line, 1-877-968-8491, text to 839863 or email youthL@linesforlife.org

• National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK

• Spanish Language National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-888-628-9454

• Crisis Text Line, 741741

• Alcohol and Drug Helpline, 800-923-4357, or text RecoveryNow to 839863

• Suicide Prevention Resource Center, sprc.org

• SafeOregon reporting line, 844-472-3367, or email tip@safeoregon.com.

Richard Hanners is a reporter for the Blue Mountain Eagle. He can be contacted at rick@bmeagle.com or 541-575-0710.

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