By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News
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Those statistics are included in a new nationwide Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report on self-inflicted deaths.
The CDC listed 53 self-inflicted deaths in Clallam County for the 1999-2010 study period.
The per capita rate in Clallam was 32 deaths per 100,000 in the time period for the 55-and-older age group among the 26 counties that reported.
That compares with the study period’s 48 suicides in Yakima County, another rural county.
In Yakima County, the rate is half of Clallam’s, while the population of 247,141 is more than three times greater.
A quarter of Clallam’s population of 71,838 is 65 and older, more than double Yakima County’s percentage of the same age group.
There were 13 self-inflicted deaths alone in Clallam County among the 55-and-older population in 2010, the same number as Yakima County-size Thurston County and more than one-quarter of Clallam County’s total for the 11-year period.
Suicide rates tend to be higher in isolated rural areas than in high-population centers, said Kelly Schwab, program manager for Crisis Clinic of the Peninsulas.
The agency answers crisis calls from Clallam, Jefferson and Kitsap counties.
“A connection to human beings is the biggest buffer” to conditions that lead to suicide, Schwab said.
Jefferson County’s suicide rate for the 55-and-older population of 21.6 per 100,000 from 1999-2010 compares with 16.7 per 100,000 for Kitsap, he noted.
The per-100,000 per capita rate was not calculated for Clallam for 2010 because it was fewer than 20 and considered “unreliable,” according to the report, and a similar figure for 2010 for Jefferson County was not listed in the study.
“We have seen a slight rise in the number of suicides by people over age 50,” said Clallam County Prosecuting Attorney Deb Kelly, who also serves as the county coroner.
Clallam County was ranked third in all suicides among all age groups among 30 Washington counties in that part of the study over the 11-year period, while Jefferson County was 13th.
“Statistically speaking, I don’t think it’s anything to be worried about,” Bob Anderson, head of the CDC’s mortality statistics branch, said last week, adding that suicide rates may be higher among the general population.
“It’s difficult to know without doing a comprehensive analysis of the county’s population,” he said.
“One of the things you have to be worried about when you use aggregate years is you eliminate the ability of looking at trends,” Anderson added.
“Suicide is just one of those things that is sort of difficult to predict.”
Self-inflicted deaths — men tend to commit suicide more than women — “very often” result from poisoning, prescription-drug overdoses and firearms usage, Anderson said.
Julie Calabria, clinical director at Peninsula Behavioral Health in Port Angeles and former supervisor of the center’s crisis team, said demographically, most suicides in Clallam County occur among adolescents and older adults.
“The crisis team does deal with suicide attempts from people of all ages, but I’m not hearing anecdotally that we’re seeing more baby boomers” in crisis situations, Calabria said.
Baby boomers are those born between 1946 and 1964.
“With older adults, you are looking at chronic illness and pain and widowhood,” she said.
“All those factors start multiplying with older adults.
“It doesn’t matter whether you’re rich or poor or all that kind of stuff,” Calabria said.
“What we’ve seen a lot with older people is often grief and loss issues.
“It can be anything from losing a partner to maybe someone has had major health problems and they can no longer live in their own home and need a higher level of care.
“Those are huge.”
Crisis Clinic of the Peninsulas, founded in 1965, is the third-oldest crisis clinic in the U.S., after ones founded in San Francisco and then Seattle, and the first rurally based clinic of its kind anywhere in the country, Schwab said.
Schwab said he has not seen an increase in suicide-related calls from Clallam or Jefferson counties but noted that nationally, suicide rates for men ages 50-54 increased by 50 percent from 1999-2010.
The suicide rate for women ages 60-64 increased almost 60 percent, Schwab said.
“There is a lot of focus on youth suicide prevention and not nearly as much on seniors,” Schwab said.
“In suicide awareness in Clallam, we do find that there is something of a reluctance to talk about it,” he said.
“That has to do with it just being a more rural area in general.”
The national recession probably also played a factor in suicide rates for Clallam and Jefferson counties around 2008, Schwab said.
“Jefferson County was probably hit equally as hard” as Clallam, Schwab added.
“They are seen as in somewhat of a recovery in both counties, but not as quickly as it has been in other areas.”
Firearms are “way, way above everything else as the primary means of men dying from suicide,” Schwab added.
Women tend to overdose using prescription drugs, he said.
Erik Nygard, clinical director of Jefferson Mental Health Services, speculated that the economic downturn combined with improvements in medical science leads to people being able to stay alive longer — and could make them feel, as time progresses, that they are a burden on their families.
“They may say to themselves, ‘Wow, how long is this going to last? I’m in pain, but I’m not dying,’” Nygard said.
“There’s all the guilt of that, too.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.