KC Currents
11:47 am
Tue October 16, 2012

Middle Aged White Males Drive Up Suicide Rate In Johnson County

Mention Johnson County, Kansas and locals think wealth, privilege and the pursuit of happiness. But disturbing trends in Johnson County suicide rates challenge us to think beyond this stereotype.

According to the Kansas Bureau of Vital Statistics, there was a 70 percent increase in suicides in Johnson County from the years 2006 to 2010, from 47 to 80. In Kansas, suicides outnumbered homicides by nearly a 4-to-1., and Johnson County was no exception. These local findings track with national trends that find suicide rates down with the exception of one group, white men ages 40-65. What are the factors driving these trends? And how does the economic downturn play a role? 

KCUR’s Susan Wilson talked to therapist Rennie Shuler-McKinney.  Rennie has worked at Shawnee Mission Medical Center in the behavioral health program for the past 25 years.  They talked about warning signs, area resources and possible reasons for the increase.

Interview Highlights
“You know we’re still in the middle of this economic crisis and my belief is that, and what I hear from our patients, those men who have made a serious attempt at their life, they’re struggling with that sense of failure. They’ve been fairly successful in running a household, maintaining a job, providing for their families. And with numerous layoffs throughout the community, men are finding themselves, initially after the layoff they’re energized to go out and find a new job, and they’re working maybe off a severance package and they have some money or maybe they’re tapping into their retirement.  But then as time goes along, and the jobs aren’t out there, they’re finding themselves in a huge financial crisis.  And for the first time in their life they’re facing a situation where they’re no longer feeling that they’re the main provider for their family.”

“They’ve (men) been able to provide for a very nice home and a nice lifestyle and when they’re not able to provide that anymore and they’re having to sell material items just to get by month to month.  I think that’s playing a larger impact on those individuals.”

“In our assessment and intake center here at the hospital, we average over 350 calls every month.  And many of those are from loved ones that are concerned because the person that’s experiencing the difficulties often don’t know where to reach, or to embarrassed to reach out and ask for help.  SO often the spouse is the one that’s making that initial phone to call to say, ‘Can you help me?  Here are some things I’m seeing, what do you think I might need to do next?’”

“Expectations in our community is that we do more with less in pretty much every organization, and with those pressures we’re seeing more and more men come in and ask for help.”

“We can help get them some type of treatment options that can most effectively deal with their depression.  And that doesn’t always mean in patient hospitalization, there are so many resources in our community that we can tap into.  And what we hear from those same individuals after their treatment, as they move onto a recovery program is, “Wow I had no idea that this was  available, I feel so much better, thank you for giving me my life back.’”

 This story was produced for KC Currents, which airs Sundays at 5pm with a repeat Mondays at 8pm. To listen on your own schedule, subscribe to the KC Currents podcast.