Clallam, Jefferson counties see rise in suicides in 2018

PORT ANGELES — Clallam and Jefferson counties saw increases in suicides in 2018 compared to 2017 as 44 North Olympic Peninsula residents died of self-inflicted harm over the 12-month period, according to coroner’s office records.

Clallam County ended 2018 with a 54-year-old Forks man’s Dec. 30 death by gunshot and a record number of 31 suicides for the year compared to 23 in 2017 — also a record year.

Less than a week later, Clallam County began 2019 with the Jan. 4 death of a 54-year-old Sequim man by a possible drug overdose.

Jefferson County ended 2018 with 13 suicides, up two from 2017.

A previous death by suicide from self-immolation has been ruled “undetermined,” according to Jefferson County Coroner’s Office records.

The total is below the 15 suicides recorded in 2016, the county’s highest sum of self-inflicted deaths since 2006.

Clallam County’s rate of suicides per 100,000 population is 41, Jefferson’s 42.

That’s well above the age-adjusted statewide rate of 14.8 per 100,000 individuals for 2016, according to a June 2018 report by the federal Centers for Disease Control (https://tinyurl.com/PDN-CDC-Report).

Washington state saw a 19 percent increase from 1999-2016, according to the report, which cited a 25.4 percent increase nationwide.

The Clallam County Board of Health will discuss plans to form a suicide task force at the board’s Jan. 15 meeting, county Health Officer Dr. Allison Berry Unthank said Monday.

“We’ve seen suicides increase across the state and across the country,” she said.

At 50 years old, Clallam County median age is 13 years old than the statewide average.

Unthank said the suicide numbers for 2018 would not change that much if Clallam County’s totals were age adjusted.

“Those numbers would probably [go] down by one or two,” she estimated.

The exact cause of the increase is hard to prove, Unthank said.

But there are certain risk factors, she said.

They include gun ownership and unsecured firearms and peer and geographic isolation.

The use of drugs and alcohol also can make a person more prone to take their own lives.

“There are things we can do about this,” she said of the spike in suicides.

“One of them is working on increasing the storage of firearms and medicines, the other is teaching providers the signs and symptoms, and how to act when that happens.”

There are ways mitigate suicide risks, Unthank said.

“Gun storage, intervention and continuity of services, those are the big three,” she said.

In 2018 in Clallam County, there were 19 suicides by using firearms, six by hanging, two by intentional overdose and one each by asphyxiation, carbon monoxide poisoning and drowning.

One was from blunt force trauma when a 68-year-old Port Angeles man jumped off the Valley Street bridge on Eighth Street before suicide barriers were erected.

The median age was 57, the age distribution was 18-87, and the gender mix 24 males and 7 females.

Fifteen occurred in the unincorporated county, eight in Port Angeles, three in Sequim and two in Forks.

In 2018 in Jefferson County, five suicides were by using firearms, three by asphyxia, two by hanging, and one each by pills, running a car off the road and exsanguination, or severe loss of blood.

The median age was 52, the age distribution was 19 to 96, and the gender mix was nine males and three females.

Seven were in Port Townsend, two each were in Port Ludlow and Port Hadlock, one was in Chimacum and one was on state Highway 104 at the Hood Canal Bridge.

Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Tom Locke and Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney-Coroner James Kennedy did not return calls for comment on Jefferson County’s suicide statistics for 2018.

Grays Harbor County, with a 73,000 population compared to Clallam’s 75,000, had eight suicides in 2017 compared to 21 in 2018.

That’s 28 per 100,000 population in 2018.

In 2018, suicides totalled 13 by using firearms, six by hanging, and one each by drowning and with a knife.

The median age was 54½-years-old, the age distribution 13-87, and the gender mix 17 males and 4 females.

Suicide prevention hot line phone numbers for Port Angeles and Sequim are 360-452-4500; for Clallam County’s West End, 360-374-6177, and for Jefferson County, 360-385-0321.

The national suicide hot line is 1-800-SUICIDE or 1-800-784-2433.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].

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