by Emalee Gillis, NAMI Spokane Blog Editor.
“It is important to understand local suicide statistics because our community and all the people in it are impacted by suicide, a preventable public health issue.,” said Mia Morton of the Spokane Regional Health District. “Statistics help us understand the scope of the impact. Statistics are very helpful for identifying trends in who is impacted by suicide, where, and how that may change over time. Suicide is not often talked about. Statistics offer a way to clearly communicate about suicide. Suicide statistics complement personal narratives and stories. Statistics and the voice of the community should guide local suicide prevention.”
According to death certificate data available to the Spokane Regional Health District, in 2021, the most recent year with complete data available, 111 people died by suicide in Spokane County. In 2021, Spokane County’s suicide rate, 20.5 per 100,000 population, was significantly higher than that in Washington state overall, 15.8 per 100,000 population. This trend of people in Spokane County dying by suicide at a higher rate compared to other areas in not new. In most years since 2000, people in Spokane County have died by suicide at a similar or higher rate compared to Washington state overall, and at a higher rate compared to the U.S. overall.
Forty-nine percent (49%) of the 111 people who died by suicide in Spokane County in 2021 used firearms. Firearms are the most common method used in deaths by suicide in Spokane County. The second and third most common methods used in deaths by suicide in Spokane County were suffocation and poisoning. This trend has not changed since 1995 and is similar to state and national trends of methods used in deaths by suicide.
In general, for every death by suicide, many more people attempt suicide. According to Ms. Morton, “We can’t know exactly how many people attempt suicide because not all suicide attempts result in an interaction with the health care system, and there may be some suicide attempts that are not self-reported on surveys. The non-fatal suicide statistics that we have, including statistics related to thoughts, attempts, and plans for suicide, come from counts of health care interactions related to suicide, like emergency department visits and hospitalizations, and through self-report on population level surveys. These statistics are likely an undercount but do give us a good idea of how prevalent suicidality, including thoughts, attempts, and plans for suicide, is in Spokane County.”
According to the Spokane Regional Health District, in 2022, among people of all ages in Spokane County, there were 1,102 emergency department visits for suicide attempts, 362 inpatient hospitalizations for suicide attempts, and 5,477 emergency visits for thoughts of suicide or suicidal ideation. Among Spokane County eighth and 10th graders who responded to the 2021 Healthy Youth Survey, about one in five reported seriously considering suicide in the past year, and about one in 10 reported attempting suicide in the past year.
Ms. Morton said, “We know that in our community, death by suicide occurs among all groups of people, but some demographic groups are more impacted than others. It is important to compare data between demographic groups to identify health disparities. Identifying health disparities with data can support equity-focused interventions that provide support where it is needed most.”
She continued, “In Spokane County, the differences in suicide rate by sex are most significant. Males consistently die by suicide more often than females. There are also significant differences between age groups. Children under 18 have the lowest suicide rate in our community. Spokane County suicide rates by race for 2001-2020 were mostly similar with two significant differences. The first difference is, Hispanic people, considered as a race, died by suicide at a lower rate than all other races. The other significant difference is, Asian/ Pacific-Islander people died by suicide at a lower rate than White people.”
“Among certain age groups, suicide is a leading cause of death,” said Ms. Morton. “From 2017-2021 in Spokane County, suicide was the second leading cause of death for people in the 15-24 age group and people in the 25-44 age group.
When asked about suicide risk factors or protective factors in Spokane County, she added, “We know that healthy social relationships serve as a protective factor for suicide. When we are living without healthy social relationships, this can increase risk of suicide. Among Spokane County residents who responded to the 2022 Quality of Life survey, nearly 60 percent reported having less than five close friends that they feel at ease with, can talk to, and can call for help.”
Ms. Morton stressed, “Suicide is an emotional and stigmatized topic, but it is an ongoing public health issue in our community. Conversations about suicide are important. We all have a role in preventing suicide. To improve the health of our community, action is required from all of us.”
The NAMI Spokane blog will be highlighting what local groups are doing to help prevent suicide and how community members can help in upcoming articles this month, which is National Suicide Prevention Month.
Mia Morton is the Keeping Children Safe Coordinator for the Spokane Regional Health District. She has been with the District for under one year. She is an active member of the Prevent Suicide Spokane Coalition and is working to re-establish a county-wide public health Child Fatality Review process to fuel local prevention efforts with a better understanding of the reasons why children and youth die in Spokane County.
Emalee Gillis is a writer and blog editor. She is the author of the memoir Adventures on the Path to Living Well with a Mental Illness and has a related TEDx Talk.